Julianne Moore’s electric performance as the titular character in “Gloria Bell” brings new life to this remake of Sebastián Lelio’s Chilean-Spanish film “Gloria.” Avoiding the usual pitfalls of a foreign film turned Hollywood flick, the film is not just a paint-by-numbers remake despite its almost shot for shot similarity to the original 2013 film. Instead of being made as a cash grab, this reimagining was made out of affection for the material and its characters. It is not often that the same filmmaker gets to helm the English version of a foreign film, but Lelio, who co-wrote and directed “Gloria Bell,” brings a fresh perspective to this remake and injects new enthusiasm and vibrance into this story — with much of the credit going to its starring performance.
The film tells the story of Gloria Bell, who has has been divorced for over a decade and feels stuck as she realizes her mortality is creeping up on her. Her office job is far from fulfilling and her kids are now all grown-up. When she hits the disco — where she frequently goes to loosen up after a long day of work — she cannot help but get caught up in the vibrant lights and upbeat music, and things start to take off one night as she meets Arnold, another divorcee. Played by the charming and quirky John Turturro, Arnold is an ex-Marine who now operates a paintball park and brings spontaneity back into Gloria’s romantic life. But right from the beginning, the two seem like a pair simply not meant to last, starkly different in personalities and outlooks.
Throughout the film, Arnold’s ex-wife calls him incessantly. In one standout scene, Gloria notices Arnold’s phone ringing, displaying his ex-wife’s name while the two are at dinner, and tosses it into his soup, laughing hysterically — it is obvious that they are at different places in their lives. Gloria is in the process of figuring out who she is when half of her life is already behind her. She is learning how to live life more joyfully and more unapologetically, one day at a time.
Lelio captures Gloria’s journey honestly by allowing Moore and the other actors to make their characters their own instead of merely imitating the original performers. While the setting of the story differs from the original “Gloria” in that it takes place in Los Angeles instead of Santiago, Chile, Lelio still invokes an essence of universality and timeliness in his story of personal rebirth and evolution.
It is rare to see a movie about a complicated and flawed middle-aged woman, but one thing is clear — Gloria is supposed to represent someone that every audience member would know in their own lives. She is an imperfect character, but clearly demonstrates a constant effort toward growing and enjoying herself. Through her natural performance style, Moore infuses Gloria with such a captivating rawness that you cannot help but root for her, through all her triumphs and pitfalls. The struggles we see on screen feel authentic, and her reactions are so honest that it transcends a typical moviegoing experience in the best way possible.
The subtlety in the film is admirable — Gloria’s character development is soft but significant. But the script leaves more to be desired. Lelio condenses the film to the point where audiences are left without a sense of dramatic closure in multiple scenes. The tightness of the editing keeps a quick pace but is sometimes a detriment to the film, as we are unable to fully experience some vital, quiet and personal moments between characters. “Gloria Bell” feels like an incomplete portrait of an otherwise rich and complex character, and it seems like there is still so much left to explore about her. Gloria Bell deserves to inhabit a far less lackluster stage.
Nothing about the film is particularly memorable, but the film is ultimately justified through Moore’s brilliant performance. The veteran actress is successfully able to ground her character in reality, and her performance is made even more impressive given that she is able to make a line such as, “When the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing” sound believable rather than cringeworthy.
The film never takes itself too seriously and neither does Moore; the amount of levity present throughout the scenes is refreshing. It is a film reminiscent of the many detailed, heavy character studies that Hollywood has introduced centered on stories of complex men, but “Gloria Bell” is a much less self-serious (but equally complex) story centered on a woman.
“Gloria Bell” is an honest and timeless portrayal of the genuine experiences of a woman. It is not the most ambitious film, and it surely does not demand one’s attention through elaborate spectacle, but it quietly creeps in to the audience’s consciousness as a thoroughly relatable cinematic experience.