By Megan Bianco
Amid all of the hectic, craziness of 2020 with the election, the pandemic, the protests and a slew of miscellaneous headlines, we appear to be having a wave of feminist/girl power/women’s lib-themed biopics. Five months ago the FX mini-series “Mrs. America” aired to a good reception, followed by Phillipa Lowthorpe’s decent Misbehaviour in September, and now Julie Taymor’s The Glorias on Amazon Prime.
Lowthorpe’s new ensemble biopic tries to mesh both the fun of girl power with the seriousness of feminism to mixed results. The comedy-drama follows the events leading up to the 1970 Miss World beauty pageant in London, where women’s liberation supporters secretly show up to make their own demonstration.
There’s Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley), the no-nonsense divorced mother trying to get back into university for her career; Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley), the radical former art school student who thinks being loud is the only way to send a message; Pearl Jansen (Loreece Harrison), the South African pageant contestant who fears life might actually be worse once she returns home from the competition; and Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the lovely Miss Grenada contestant who might be the right amount or naïve to make it far into the pageant.
Though the reception for the movie has been mostly decent, there have been some reservations about a few things. One is that the story is too serious and important for the lighter tone Lowthorpe creates with Misbehaviour. It’s appropriately somber as the film dives into sexism and racism as themes, but then for the rest of the runtime we get an uplifting, feel-good atmosphere along the lines of a Penny Marshall hit. For the most part, I was fine with the mood Lowthorpe set up, though I can see why some viewers would want a more straightforward piece.
The Glorias chronicles the life and career of feminist icon and journalism legend Gloria Steinem. Taymor’s epic biography follows four different actresses portraying Steinem at various stages of life.
Ryan Kiera Armstrong shows Gloria as an 8-year-old tap dancer in small-town Ohio; 15-year-old Gloria is Lulu Wilson, now stuck in even worse conditions; Alicia Vikander plays Gloria from the 1950s to early 1970s, where she goes from disrespected columnist to co-founding her own women-focused publication with Ms. Magazine; and finally Julianne Moore gives us the later years of Gloria as spokesperson of the American Women’s Liberation Movement who dodges questions about never marrying or starting a family.
Interestingly enough, I think all three feminist history pieces this year came out in order of quality. The Glorias is a swing-and-miss for me. By far the most interesting and engaging portions of the movie are centered on Vikander during Gloria’s young adult years. The actress is just as charming and sophisticated as Steinem was in her youth, and it’s easy to see how she won over so many women around the world.
Moore is fine as the older Gloria, but I’ve just never been a huge fan of Taymor’s directing style. The Glorias starts out as a surprisingly traditionally structured biopic, but then saves all the artsy Taymor-isms when Moore takes over the film, making the tone and atmosphere feel disjointed and inconsistent.
All in all, Misbehaviour probably could have said a little more about intersectionality in feminism, but it’s alright for an enjoyable 105 minutes on screen. The Glorias, however, despite an intriguing subject, talented cast and impressive production values, misses the mark stylistically.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.