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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Julie Taymor
scr Julie Taymor, Sarah Ruhl
prd Alex Saks, Julie Taymor, Lynn Hendee
with Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Janelle Monae, Bette Midler, Timothy Hutton, Lorraine Toussaint, Enid Graham, Kimberly Guerrero, Monica Sanchez, Madhur Jaffrey, Gloria Steinem
release US 2.Oct.20
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
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Taking an artful, original approach to the biopic, Julie Taymor adapts Gloria Steinem's autobiography looking at the feminist icon at various points in her life, played by four great actors and finally the woman herself. The film is inventively assembled to explore moments that had an impact on her and on the world. Refreshingly, the script refuses to pull punches, facing big issues head-on while keeping the story personal.
In the 1940s, young Gloria (Armstrong) takes to life on the road with her restless dreamer father Leo (Hutton) and smart-worried mother Ruth (Graham). As a teen (now Wilson), her now-divorced mother returns to racially charged Toledo. After university, Gloria (Vikander) tours India for two years, discovering all-too-common women's issues. This leads her into journalism, which in the mid-60s fires up her activism, teaming up with Dorothy (Monae) at an equal rights rally. And in 1972, Gloria (Moore) is one of the co-founders of Ms magazine, challenging male superiority on a variety of fronts.
Taymor skilfully swirls through chapters in Gloria's life, cleverly cutting between scenes and sometimes letting them overlap and echo each other. A framing device in which all of the Glorias ride a bus through various settings is rather odd, but effectively offers a bigger picture. Each section of the story highlights seriously important issues, including the full range of endemic bigotry, plus ignorance about mental illness. The scenes in India are particularly strong. As are continual moments in which she is belittled by male colleagues.
The gifted Armstrong and Wilson both have powerful moments, capturing layers of feelings and perceptions in their scenes. Vikander is terrific as she traces a pivotal sequence of events in Gloria's life, observant and compassionate, discovering her unwillingness to be treated as inferior. Moore is as luminous and feisty as ever, digging deeply beneath an almost eerie impersonation. The people around Gloria all have their own inner lives as well. And there are also fabulous scene-stealers like Midler (as Bella Abzug) and Toussaint (as Flo Kennedy).
Taymor's more ambitious touches include a smart, rather outrageous sequence on female "uniforms" and a gorgeously animated take on Ms's debut cover. She also includes bitingly relevant archival footage. This is a beautifully written and directed film, packed with tiny observations that cut beneath expectations to find resonant truths about both the characters and American society. It involves us in Steinem's fascinating journey, and it sharply highlights how racism, sexism and homophobia are inextricably intertwined.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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