By Leah Greenblatt
October 08, 2020 at 09:19 PM EDT
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Dan McFadden/Roadside Attractions

A woman like Gloria Steinem certainly deserves a biopic more than a fish needs a bicycle, though Julie Taymor’s The Glorias might not exactly be it. Her crowded, earnest portrayal of the feminist godhead (now streaming on Amazon Prime) is refracted into several roles, portrayed primarily by a pair of Oscar-winning actresses: Alicia Vikander, who inhabits her as a younger woman, and Julianne Moore, who takes over around the age of 40.

Both have Steinem’s physical signatures — the oversized glasses, the tapered fingernails, that fawn-colored waterfall of hair — locked down. And each, of course, has her own singular take on the Ohio native’s distinctive way of moving through the world, from the earliest bloom of activism to her status as a full-blown icon and figurehead of the women's liberation movement.

But Taymor, who also wrote the screenplay from Steinem’s 2015 memoir My Life on the Road, tends to cram it all in with the galloping, unchecked enthusiasm of a Wikipedia page, reeling from an itinerant youth spent crisscrossing a post-War America with Gloria’s scheming dreamer of a father (Timothy Hutton) to her years at Smith College, twentysomething journey of self-discovery in India, early journalism work — including her infamous first-person embed as a bunny-tailed server at the Playboy Club — and firm establishment as one of the most celebrated and scrutinized thought leaders of the 20th century.

There are traces of Taymor’s well-known whimsy sprinkled throughout — the high-flying bits of flair that so enlivened her now-iconic Broadway production of The Lion King and films like 2002’s Frida and the 2007 Beatles fantasia Across the Universe. Here, though, they often seem oddly divorced from a too-literal narrative, which rarely seems to trust that the viewer will be able to recognize the incidents of Steinem's life for their larger cultural implications without having it clearly and often clunkily spelled out.

Janelle Monáe drops in as activist Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and Bette Midler has almost too much fun with hats as the flamboyant lawyer and agitator Bella Abzug, but most supporting players are too occupied with pushing the plot forward to do much more than hit their marks before moving on. As a reverent highlight reel and a history lesson, The Glorias gets the job done; as a movie, though, it rarely sings. B–

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