Come for Julianne Moore’s effortlessly jubilant performance, stay for the complicated middle-aged tryst in Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria Bell. A remake of the director’s own 2013 Spanish-language film Gloria, Chile’s submission for Best Foreign Language film at the 2014 Academy Awards, the film is distributed by indie giant A24 and carries the mark of quality that is commonly associated with their auteur brand, though it would be hard to mistake the competent, if hard to swoon for, drama for one of the distribution company’s finest outputs.
Lelio exudes a confidence of craft and a deeply humanist touch behind the camera, not surprising from the director of A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience. His approach to Gloria and the myriad of characters cycling through her life suggests a deep love and understanding of the character he’s created many moons ago and now revisits. That being said, it’s never evident why exactly he has chosen to retell this story, outside of the obvious fact that it’s been dumbed down (read: no longer in subtitles) for American consumption. But who better than the Oscar-winning Julianne Moore to pour her soul into this gentle, complex persona, as any true cinephile would find a hard time complaining about spending 100 minutes with a bespectacled Julianne Moore.
Moore rifles through a myriad of emotions throughout her tenure as the eponymous lead in Gloria Bell but it’s her Cheshire-wide smile that characterizes her best. Beneath that remarkable beam of light scurries a brooding sense of loneliness. Often pervading, Gloria toils with a feeling of dejection and expiration. A feeling that the world – her children, friends, lovers – have moved on without her. A loneliness Gloria aims to tame.
From the opening shot at a crowded single’s disco, Gloria hunts for affection like a lioness. Carefully manicured, she scouts for a potential future. On the dance floor, she shuffles in the arms of single-serving partners but it’s clear that all is not for love of dance; that there is missing – a gap she aims to fill. When she catches eyes with Arnold (John Turturro), a romantic fling erupts, full of intimate sexual encounters, complicated by the hurdles of responsibility, divorce, and loads of baggage.
At its very core, Gloria Bell suggests the power of love, regardless of age, whilst rebuking its immaturities. The chemistry shared between Gloria and Arnold (and Moore and Turturro for that matter) is palpable but not all-encompassing. Arnold’s worthless daughters and his frequent mishandling of emotionally complicated situations mark him as a troublesome lover and one that may not ultimately pass muster. Throughout her affair, Gloria tries to square her desire for companionship with her self-worth and maturity. The maneuver proves more complicated that half-assed disco moves in a darkened club.
The two over-the-hill suitors ebb in and out of each other’s life and Lelio does a remarkable job of impressing the hardship of falling in love with a sizable laundry list of screwy nuclear family history while also detailing how childish and immature people can be, be they 20, 30, 40, 50, or beyond. Just as Gloria and Arnold’s courtship turns ominous when he sneaks away from a family dinner, casting a dark cloud over an otherwise promising new start. Gloria Bell suggests that as some people can move beyond their past, while others are doomed to recycle its follies, so too is love complicated and shaped by bad habits and narrow misses. We are what we are, for better or worse. Moore is unsurprisingly great in the role, as is Turturro and the supporting cast that includes Michael Cera, Brad Garret, Rita Wilson, and a bombed-out Sean Astin who’s too drunk to utter a word in the film.
Both broad and narrow strokes are unmistakably similar to the original work with certain shots borrowed directly from the 2013 film, like a pile of giggling bodies woven together like human latticework. Lelio’s skill as a performance-centric dramatist is in as sharp a focus as ever, his feel for tone and nuance and performance honed to a lovely degree. The cinematography from Natasha Braier is splashy and colorful, blasting Moore in lonely shades of purple that accent her out-of-placeness and inner turmoil while the soundtrack from Matthew Herbert threatens to be overly playful at times, tinkering serious drama with a sonic sense of magical realism that doesn’t always match. While a thoughtfully performed treatise on the challenges of divorced dating, Gloria Bell is unlikely to win any converts to the romance genre, lacking the narrative punch to make this story of aging flirtation as unforgettable as his leading lady truly deserves.
CONCLUSION: Julianne Moore is easy to adore in Sebastián Lelio’s nuanced tale of dating divorcées though ‘Gloria Bell’ lacks the distinction, and falls short of earning a place among great tales of timeless romance.
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