Julianne Moore is luminous in this captivating film from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio.
April 25, 2019
It's possible to believe that a film needn't necessarily exist, and still be thrilled that it does. That's the case with Gloria Bell, Sebastián Lelio's English-language remake of his 2013 Chilean drama Gloria — which keeps the same plot, brings in Julianne Moore and transfers the action to Los Angeles. The first time around, Lelio's tale of a 50-something divorcee trying to reclaim her life proved a potent character study, made blisteringly real not only thanks to an empathetic, keenly observed script, but via an exceptional lead performance. That rings true here as well, yet this narrative, its honest exploration of womanhood at a mature age and its rich texture doesn't get old. If we can have oh-so-many cookie-cutter movies about slacker man-children just trying to find a girl to love them despite their obvious flaws, we can have two versions of this story.
Played with a luminous air, a sense of vulnerability and a determined spirit by the always-stellar Moore, Gloria Bell has long become accustomed to her unattached existence. Her days are spent working in insurance, singing 80s hits in her car and snatching whatever time she can with her grown-up kids (Caren Pistorius and Michael Cera), while her nights usually end beneath the disco ball at a singles bar. "When the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing," she proclaims happily, and it's fancy footwork that brings her to recently divorced theme-park owner Arnold (John Turturro). Sparks fly, but life and love haven't been easy for Gloria thus far, and they won't be from this point onwards.
Reworking his initial script with actor and writer Alice Johnson Boher, Lelio fills Gloria Bell with detail. That applies equally to the film and to the figure that gives the movie its name. While the plot is straightforward — a woman and a man meet, connect and try to work out if their messy lives fit together — every character, scene and moment is gloriously layered, ensuring that nothing about the picture is simplistic. It's true when Gloria commiserates with a colleague (Barbara Sukowa) about their respective retirement savings, a conversation that speaks to the uncertainty that often greets women who've spent time out of the workforce to raise a family. It's true when the film spies its protagonist attending a laughing group, allowing herself to giggle away her troubles while participating in a pastime with a very specific audience. And it's true when Lelio pushes his heroine to finally complain about her unstable upstairs neighbour, with Gloria wavering between caring for a troubled soul and looking out for herself.
From wondering how a hairless cat keeps finding its way into her apartment, to lighting up on the paintball range with Arnold, to running free on a trip to Las Vegas, Gloria Bell keeps showing what makes the open-hearted Gloria tick — and why. This isn't just a slice-of-life journey of discovery for those watching, however, but for the restless yet quietly relentless woman herself. It's this, in particular, that makes the film so evocative and meaningful. On multiple occasions, Gloria is given a choice to either go with the flow or to shape her own path and, even when her actions end in chaos, she grabs hold of her future with both hands. Gloria doesn't merely navigate ups and downs, but uncovers her strengths and limits. She doesn't just tackle dramas, but learns how to cope with whatever comes her way. She's never ashamed of being a lonely divorcee, but she also won't let it define her.
Unsurprisingly, Moore couldn't be more pivotal; if Lelio remade his own movie solely to work with her, it'd be justification enough for Gloria Bell. Behind large glasses, with more blonde than red in her hair, and reuniting with her Big Lebowski co-star Turturro, Moore's radiant to the point of transcendence — middle-aged malaise rarely looked so stripped-bare and so simultaneously vivid. It helps, of course, that the acclaimed Chilean filmmaker matches his visual style and overarching tone to his leading lady, as he also did so winningly in queer dramas A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience. It worked a charm for Paulina García in the original Gloria, and it works captivatingly with Moore in Gloria Bell. One happily stands beside the other, and viewers will want to lose themselves on the dance floor with both.
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