Multiple actresses play Gloria Steinem at different ages in "The Glorias," a more conventional version of the device used in the Bob Dylan biography "I'm Not There." The key performances are strong, but director/co-writer Julie Taymor's movie meanders too much, dragging through the beginning and again toward the end.
Flitting about in time, the film features two youngsters playing the feminist icon in her youth, with Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore portraying her, respectively, as a young woman -- introduced traveling in India -- and an older one who has found her voice. Periodically, the different Glorias interact, in a sort of "If I knew then what I know now" kind of way.
"Travel is the best education," says her father (Timothy Hutton), whose moneymaking schemes generally flop, leading to unsettling days before Gloria begins to carve out her footprint as a writer, dealing with the overt sexism and condescension that the "Mad Men" era entailed.
It's around then, roughly 40 minutes in, when "The Glorias" finally starts to coalesce, making the time devoted to her early biography feel excessive, especially considering that there's relatively little about her personal life once she's an adult.
Adapted from Steinem's autobiography "My Life on the Road," the movie deals with her undercover expose working at the Playboy Club (resulting in the memorable 1963 Show magazine piece "A Bunny's Tale"), as well as fending off lecherous bosses, getting asked to make coffee for male colleagues, and being told that it's "rare to see a woman writer with a sense of humor" and "You write like a man."
Steinem eventually embarks on the venture of launching Ms. magazine, dismissed in an actual news clip by "60 Minutes'" Harry Reasoner. In that role she becomes a leader in the battle for equal rights, overcoming her fear of public speaking.
Various high-profile figures, such as Bella Abzug (Bette Midler), pass through her orbit, rallying the cause at the National Women's Conference. Still, the broader contours of the movement were fleshed out more effectively in the recent "Mrs. America," even if Steinem (played there by Rose Byrne) dismissed the Hulu limited series during an interview with the Guardian, questioning its divided focus on conservative Phyllis Schlafly.
At 86, Steinem remains a powerful representative of the decades-long struggle for equal rights, one with renewed intensity amid the pending battle over Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett and potential legal threats to Roe v. Wade and women's reproductive rights.
"The Glorias" acknowledges Steinem's sweeping influence with the idea that it takes more than one actor to bring her to life. Yet the result is a movie that, despite its earnest intentions and some stirring moments, ultimately doesn't feel equal to its subject.
"The Glorias" premieres Sept. 30 on demand and on Amazon.