‘The Glorias’ Shows Off Some Good and Some Bad Habits of Biopic Filmmaking

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Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Gloria Steinem, and Director Julie Taymor behind the scenes of “The Glorias” (CREDIT: Dan McFadden/LD Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

Starring: Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Timothy Hutton, Janelle Monáe, Bella Abzug, Lorraine Toussaint, Enid Graham, Kimberly Guerrero, Monica Sanchez, Margo Moorer

Director: Julie Taymor

Running Time: 139 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Language and a Nude Image

Release Date: September 30, 2020 (Amazon Prime Video)

I’m of the mind that biopics – that most staid of movie genres – ought to be a little bit wacky. Or A LOT wacky. And the Julia Taymor-directed The Glorias is undoubtedly wacky. Or maybe, it’s exactly as it should be, and it’s everything else that’s askew. The subject is Gloria Steinem, one of the most famous activists in American history, so I’m sure she can appreciate an approach that breaks the mold. Taymor ditches a strictly chronological approach by having all four of the actors playing Gloria frequently interact with each other. Ryan Kiera Armstrong (young Gloria), Lulu Wilson (teen Gloria), Alicia Vikander (young adult Gloria), and Julianne Moore (older adult Gloria) are all presented as passengers on a ride heading to the promise of Steinem’s life’s work. It’s a journey that’s still ongoing as conversations between the past and present remain passionate and relevant.

Taymor fills The Glorias with occasional flights of fantastical whimsy that reminded me a fair bit of Rocketman, the most exuberant biopic in recent memory. These include a sexist interview that turns into an encounter with all four Glorias as witches, and a moment of frustration leading to Gloria running along a series of seemingly endless M.C. Escher-style roads. These moments are fascinating on their own, but they’re a bit too scattered throughout to really pack as powerful a punch as they possibly could.

The Glorias also has plenty of much more prosaic moments, and that mix of straightforward and roundabout results in a running time that clocks in thickly at nearly two and a half hours. Some of the episodes in the 1970s section, like the founding of Ms. Magazine, were also recently covered more excitingly in the FX on Hulu miniseries Mrs. America. Taymor has bitten off plenty (which is what happens when you try to cover the entire arc of someone who’s lived for nearly 90 years), and she chews as much of it as she can. When she manages to really dig in, it’s a fine fiesta to behold. You just have to deal with the messier edges if you want to find the fun.

The Glorias is Recommended If You Like: Filmmaking that’s plenty ambitious but also a little messy

Grade: 3 out of 5 Marches

This Is a Movie Review: ‘RBG’ Presents Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Story as a History of American Justice

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CREDIT: Magnolia Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in May 2018.

Starring: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Gloria Steinem, Nina Totenberg, Clara Spera

Directors: Betsy West and Julie Cohen

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG for Eyeroll-Style Rebukes to Years of Discrimination

Release Date: May 4, 2018 (Limited)

RBG is not so much about lionizing Ruth Bader Ginsburg as much as it is about capturing the moment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It is compelling in that regard because the fact that a woman achieves her greatest fame in her eighties, for whatever reason, is notable in and of itself. Ginsburg’s singularity is understandable insofar as becoming a justice on the United States Supreme Court is typically the culmination of a decades-long career, but her uniqueness is nonetheless still remarkable. Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen make the case that this moment is richly deserved, as Ginsburg has played critical roles in key moments in American legislative history. This is a documentary that makes the case for someone who has so assiduously made many cases for others.

As a progressive-minded individual, and a fan of Ginsburg’s already, I am pre-disposed to enjoy a doc that takes an admiring approach towards her. But as a critic, I am always inclined to wonder if I have fallen prey to a bit of hagiography. I imagine this film would not have gotten made if not for the existence of the “Notorious R.B.G.” tumblr, but this is not the “RBG memes” movie. It puts in the work to justify why this story is worth being told. In clear, efficient terms, it presents how Ginsburg was integral in multiple landmark decisions involving gender equity, as she rectified institutional discrimination that had been hurting both men and women. And as much as RBG reveals how Ginsburg deserves gratitude from certain constituencies, it does not turn a blind eye to her more questionable moments, as it examines the appropriateness, or lack thereof, of her critical comments about Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

Overall, RBG demonstrates admirable commitment to the concept of cura personalis, Latin for “care for the entire person” (an idea that graduates of Jesuit institutions will intimately recognize). This is surely not the first documentary focused around the totality of an individual, but this particular doc displays care for the entire person more than most, whether or not its makers are familiar with any particular term. It is hardly groundbreaking that a chronicle of Ginsburg’s career is accompanied with stories of her family life, or friendly interactions with her colleagues, or her reactions to Kate McKinnon’s SNL impression of her as a Def Jam-style comedian. (It is perhaps a little bit surprising, though, that we also get to see footage of her daily workout routine.) Ultimately the value of a film like this is fully in focus in the scenes with Ginsburg and her granddaughter, law student Clara Spera (who is equal parts admiring of the public figure and loving of the family member), and that value is that everyone should be treated with such thorough, compassionate care.

RBG is Recommended If You Like: Ruth Bader Ginsburg the Person, Ruth Bader Ginsburg the Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg the Meme, Kate McKinnon’s impression of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 Dissents