Away from this Greyhound purgatory, Taymor breaks up the chronology of Steinem’s life in the most minimal of formal choices. Reassembled, Steinem’s childhood and teen years are shown to be driven by her father Leo’s (Timothy Hutton) incompetent entrepreneurship. He shuttles the family around between jobs and sales opportunities until her mother Ruth (Enid Graham) leaves him, whom Gloria is then left to care for during a subsequent depression. Does she generate any burning resentment towards dad or share a meaningful moment with mom as a result of any of this? Nope. No version of Steinem ever has it out with Leo’s ghost. A film that had other stuff going for it might be praised for skipping a big Oscar-y blow-up, but it would have at least invigorated a film as inert as this one.
In adulthood, The Glorias’ vignettes never rise beyond the level of an anecdote that Steinem might convey on a talk show. The film takes no time to sketch out historical figures as real people or events as hard-won victories or losses. These are the people she met, and this is what they did together. Steinem is repeatedly the least interesting person in the room, an audience surrogate through intersectional feminism in her own biopic. Moore, who takes over starting in the late-60’s, is left to nod approvingly while characters like Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero) and Florynce Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint) make the case for their own films, instead of being relegated to wise instructors for a bland white protagonist. As Steinem jumps all the way into the political sphere, the film has no time for engagement or debate or conversion, and instead crams exposition into dialogue between characters who know what’s going on. The National Women’s Political Caucus, so vibrantly and chaotically brought to life in Mrs. America, is here a place where speeches are given to adoring crowds, where conversative talking points are batted away by high-flying rhetoric in that particular way that liberals love to imagine.
Whatever Taymor’s got left in the tank fails to impress or move. Fantastical cutaways that might provide for lusty performances are the opposite, to say nothing of how incredibly uninspired they are. Here’s Steinem as… the Wicked Witch flying alongside the framing device bus. Trenchant. For a film that takes place at the cusp of and throughout the sexual revolution, it’s completely sexless. For as little happens after the mid-70’s, the film seems to know that there was no point in including Steinem’s entire life, but committed to most boring and diffuse path anyway. Moore is at her worst in an airless performance, and Vikander is focused on the impression. The Glorias is a pandering, overlong, prime example of failed biopic, a total misfire from all involved. Mrs. America is just sitting there on Hulu for anyone to discover. Watch its nine episodes, and then watch them again a few more times, before insulting yourself with The Glorias. D