"Uncle Gloria: One Helluva Ride!" covers one helluva story. What director-editor Robyn Symon's entertaining documentary lacks in polish it makes up for with its uniquely charismatic lead subject and her stranger-than-fiction tale.
Symon's journey with Gloria Stein began in 2003 when the filmmaker was asked to shoot the completion of the then-67-year-old's gender reassignment surgery. Symon continued to film Gloria through 2015, piecing together the complex layers of her twisty history.
The resultant documentary mixes old home movie clips with latter-day footage, dramatic reenactments, and chats with Gloria and her family and friends, as Symon tracks how her star (original nickname: Butch) went from tough South Florida auto wrecker and married father of two to a criminal who hid from the law by dressing as a woman. This struck an unexpected chord in Butch, eventually moving him to live full-time as the brash, brassy Gloria.
Although the movie feels a bit episodic and eludes several key psychological — and physiological — details, it offers such involving highlights from Gloria's life as her stint as a sex worker, a visit to her 60th high school reunion, her LGBTQ activism, and shopping trips for dresses and cars.
But it's the exploration of Gloria's fractured family dynamics and romantic relationship with a younger transgender man, Dan, that lend the film its deeper humanity and heft.
Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes
Playing: Arena Cinelounge Sunset, Hollywood