The Glorias: Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, and Julianne Moore.
It’s been a good summer at the movies for biopics of second-wave feminists. Helen Reddy passed away late last month, but not before I Am Woman introduced her to a new generation. We end the season with The Glorias, an epic journey on the road with a generation’s spokeswoman for the American feminist movement: Gloria Steinem.
True to My Life on the Road, the 2015 autobiography that director Julie Taymor uses for inspiration, a good portion of the film takes place in Greyhounds and train cars, their wheels a rolling throughline linking past with present. It’s not uncommon to find two performers cast as the same character at various stages of life; here, the plurality of the title refers to the quartet (Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Lulu Wilson, Alicia Vikander, and Julianne Moore) engaged to play the author, activist, and co-founder of Ms. magazine. This may sound a tad excessive, until one recalls the six varieties of Bob Dylan on hand to shore up I’m Not There, seven James Bonds at Casino Royale, and eight actors to personify Aviva in Palindromes. The four variations frequently cross paths with Taymor, offering the character the unique ability to literally question her past and future. Then there’s that chilling shift in tone when a thirtysomething Gloria (played by 9-year-old Armstrong) is trapped in the backseat of a car surrounded by anti-abortion protesters chanting “baby killer.”
Taymor’s directorial sleight-of-hand is so gracefully executed that it helps to take one’s mind off the occasional lack of common sense required to justify character behavior. When Ruby Brown (Olivia Jordan), a young African-American passerby, asks why Ms. Steinem (Wilson) is practicing tap-dancing on the concrete sidewalk outside her house, the latter chalks it up to a lack of linoleum. One cut later whisks us inside Olivia’s father’s barbershop where, much to the delight of the customers, the two girls are dancing up a storm. The staging is electrifying — the camera sashays around mirrored columns with such swooping precision that no matter how hard you watch for it, a camera reflection is nowhere to be found. It’s only when the police respond to a frantic missing persons call from Ms. Steinem’s mother that one begins to question how they tracked the young woman to an all-black clipper’s.
The infrequent fits of surrealism — those patentable bursts of oversaturated Technicolor phantasma that contributed to the eyegasmic memorableness of Taymor’s Titus and Frida — here seem out of place. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto (Babel, The Wolf of Wall Street) is decidedly up for the challenge, but Ms. Steinem comes off as a person too grounded in principles to fan fumes of fancy. We end in the back of the bus; a long slow pullback reveals the quartet of Glorias mixing with other cast members as they all appear to enjoy a rolling wrap party. The shot ends on Ms. Steinem who, instead of occupying the front seat, should have been at the wheel. ★★★
Video on Demand New Release Roundup
The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw — We begin in 1956, 83 years after families from the Church of Ireland found a home for themselves in North America. The pious villagers live in poverty, save for Agatha Earnshaw (Catherine Walker), the one prosperous landowner of the lot. (Is that Agatha’s signature scrawled across the bottom of a devil’s pact?) Since birth, she has kept her bewitching 17-year-old daughter Audrey (Jessica Reynolds) a secret, fearing the male predator who might one day make off with her. Through the cracks of the wooden box used to transport the young woman, Audrey spies an altercation between mom and one of the community’s more hostile menfolk. Realizing just how weak Agatha is when it comes to safeguarding the nest egg, telepathic temptress Audrey kicks out the crummy slats out of her crate and emerges as The Daughter Who Would Not Take It Anymore. For his second feature, writer-director Thomas Robert Lee emphasizes style over gore; the more left to the viewer’s mind, the better. The production design and cast of relatively unfamiliar faces provide the atmospheric immediacy needed to juice the tension. But while the setup is sublime, the open-ended resolution comes as a bit of a head scratcher; don’t expect an explicative ribbon to braid the loose ends. If none of the above-mentioned makes sense, think Bad Boy Bubby meets Cries and Whispers, with more coughed-up blood than a caboodle of Doc Holiday’s used handkerchiefs. 2020 — S.M. ★★★
Lost Girls & Love Hotels — The talented Alexandra Daddario has tried her hand at roles in genre pictures — the replacement squeeze in Joe Dante’s singular misfire Burying the Ex, The Rock’s daughter in San Andreas, outrageously miscast as the (relatively speaking) “plain Jane” in Baywatch, and the one bright ray in the otherwise dim We Summon the Darkness — but nothing, save those placidly clear baby blues, seems to stick in viewers’ minds. Lost Girls & Love Hotels is a Japan-set variation on Looking for Mr. Goodbar. By day, Margaret (Daddario) teaches proper American pronunciation to budding flight attendants. By night, she’s a sub, her sights set on searching the sidewalks and subways for a dom to escort to the titular chain of mini-brothels known for luxurious rooms that rent by the hour. “You remind me of me,” her sympathetic boss Mari (Mariko Tsutsui) confesses after enduring weeks of Margaret’s chronic tardiness and frequently disheveled classroom demeanor. Their brief scenes together stand out amidst the formulaic encounters between Margaret and the soon-to-be wed yakuza (Takehiro Hira) she falls for. Daddario is fine, but even she can’t summon the inner grease-monkey needed to stop the plot from constantly stalling. William Olsson directs. 2020 — S.M. ★
LX 2048 — His doctor assures Adam (James D’Arcy) that he’s not dying, at least not yet, although his ticker does appear to be on the fritz. Looking to ensure a bright future for his family, Adam prepares to get his affairs in order. If this dystopian portrait of the future looks particularly dim, blame the sun and the enormous toxicity levels that force people to spend their days indoors. With his wife and children hooked on virtual reality, isolated Adam begins a v-world affair of his own. (Better one’s hand than a sex doll that resembles a hobby horse with a blonde Khloe Kardashian ponytail.) Chalk up the film’s sluggish start to budgetary limitations; this slow-burning satire keeps percolating as it progresses, leading to a droll third act payoff. Writer-director Guy Moshe’s portrait of a society coming together to conform to a new definition of the real world is notably prescient, given our current state of humankind. With: Delroy Lindo as the father of cloning. 2020 — S.M. ★★★