The 2019 film, Gloria Bell, written and directed by Sebastián Lelio, is an English-language remake of his highly acclaimed 2013 Chilean film, Gloria. Even if you’ve already seen and enjoyed the original, the remake is still very much worth your time. As Lelio himself has put it, it’s the same melody performed by a whole new band. Starring Julianne Moore in a perfectly pitched portrayal of the titular character, Gloria Bell is a subtle character study of a middle-aged single woman and her sex life, a big-screen rarity in and of itself. In the first shot of the film, the camera drifts through a crowded L.A. dance club, music blaring in the background, until it happens upon Gloria, standing by the bar, surveying the social landscape. When she moves, it’s with the relaxed poise that comes with age. Although she seems receptive to the attention of men, she’s mainly out to have fun.
During a subsequent outing, a recently divorced single named Arnold, played by John Turturro with his own unique brand of quirky charisma, approaches Gloria. After chatting, dancing, and comparing notes on their lives, he gets her phone number. On their first date, Arnold confesses that he’s having feelings he had resigned himself to never feel again, paving the way for the main storyline — a whirlwind romance that’s not without its difficulties. Along the way, the film portrays Gloria’s life as rich and fully realized, with two adult children, an ex-husband of ten years, several friends, a small apartment, and a job settling insurance claims. She also loves to sing along to corny pop-tunes from the ‘70s and ‘80s while driving alone in her car. If she’s not singing, it’s a sign that something’s wrong.
Gloria is painted with character defining brush strokes that make her eminently relatable. Like most of us, for example, she’s an amalgam of both confidence and insecurity. When she leaves voicemails for her children, she habitually concludes with a timid, “It’s your mother,” as if she’s afraid they won’t recognize her voice. But when a friend of hers needs cheering up, she doesn’t hesitate to yell out to the world, “This woman is awesome. Treat her right. Respect her!”
Gloria Bell, the film, is a lot of things: funny, joyous, romantic. But one of its strong points is that it never tries hard to be any of those things, so the story feels grounded and never steps into soap opera territory. It’s also never Pollyannaish. At one point, Gloria finds out something all too common for her age; she has a chronic health issue – non-fatal, but requiring life-long maintenance. And virtually everyone she knows has problems of his or her own. That’s not to say the movie is downbeat, either. It acknowledges the fact life is tough and everyone has issues, and yet it leaves us with the feeling that contentment is rarely out of reach.
Gloria Bell succeeds as an empathetic look at middle age with all of its accompanying trials, not least of which is the challenge of finding a worthy partner whose baggage doesn’t outweigh our own. It’s also a surprisingly uplifting film about one woman’s quest for happiness, and her empowering self-realization that she is in control of it.
For KSQD’s Film Gang, this is Paul Kanieski.