GLORIA BELL – Review
Julianne Moore stars in GLORIA BELL, Oscar-winning Chilean writer/director Sebastian Lelio’s English-language remake of his romance/comedy/drama about a free-spirited middle-aged woman, GLORIA. Lelio’s 2017 A FANTASTIC WOMAN, about a transgender woman, won an Oscar and Lelio followed that up with DISOBEDIENCE, starring Rachel Weisz as a gay woman in an ultra-conservative Jewish community. Lelio also won praise and some international attention for his 2013 film GLORIA, which focused on another kind of character rarely put at the center of movie plots, a middle-aged woman.
Julianne Moore shines gloriously in GLORIA BELL, as the irrepressible Gloria, a long-divorced kind-hearted woman who loves to dance who is ever hopeful about finding love. While Moore is wonderful, the film itself is not as charming or involving as the original. Rather than feeling like Gloria is starting a new chapter of her life by the story’s end, it feels more like she makes a complete circle back to the same place.
Moore’s Gloria is a happy, free-spirited woman who does kind things for those in her life yet she seems a bit lonely and on her own. She has a good relationship with her grown children, Anne (Caren Pistorius) and Peter (Michael Cera), but they have their own lives. Gloria is at a low-point in her life as the film opens, with difficulties at work under her demanding boss, and her long-time co-worker friend (the wonderful German actress Barbara Sukowa) seems to be just hanging on. Long divorced, Gloria loves to go dancing, which she frequently does and seems to be a kind of escape from her worries. But while she dates, she has not found love. When she meets a new man named Arnold (John Turturro), it opens the door to romance and the possibility of a new chapter in her life.
Moore is undeniably cute singing along to the pop hits of her youth in her car, slightly off-key of course. She gains our admiration by the way she stands by her friends and wins our sympathy as she tries to connect with and help her grown children, who seem to love her but tolerate her rather than need her. She seems to give more than she receives, which touches our hearts.
Writer/director Sebastian Lelio mixes romance, comedy and drama into this character study, which has been re-set in Los Angeles. Moore glows as Gloria, and is supported by a good cast. While the film deserves credit simply for being such a warm portrait of a middle-aged woman and it is certainly lifted by Moore’s presence, the film itself is only modestly entertaining. It is not a bad movie, just a disappointing, mildly-frustrating one. Even though this re-make is by the original writer/director, it suffers from a common problem of remakes of a good film – that it is hard to recreate the magic a second time.
GLORIA BELL is filled with ’70s music to match the main character’s era, and Gloria’s favorite club is a ’70s throwback disco. The ’70s theme is so strong that we are some minutes into the film before it becomes clear that the story takes place in the present and not that decade. It is a clever way to suggest Gloria might be stuck in the past.
GLORIA BELL is best when it just focuses on Julianne Moore, who just glows with vibrant life, in her personal interactions with her children and friends. These scenes have an appealing naturalness, and the strong cast helps here. Gloria is a warm, kind-hearted person who is always taking care of others but has no one who takes care of her. Meeting Arnold seems to open the door that possibility but Arnold comes with his own baggage.
The problem is the story, which never seems to go much of anywhere. Sure, there is the evolving relationship with Arnold, which has is ups and downs, and there are are changes changes in her children’s lives that impact her, which Gloria rocks her emotionally. She has to cope with what is happening at work and her drunken ex-husband, with whom she is friendly. She weathers it all with resilience and grace, but we don’t feel like she is changed by her experiences. Instead, we feel like she makes a circle back to where she was. It makes the film less involving and less satisfying than the original, despite Moore’s luminous performance.
If one is a big Julianne Moore fan, the film offers some enjoyment, with plenty of lovely close-ups and lovely moments with the actress playing a charming joy-filled character despite her modest life. Her performance and the loving close-ups may be enough for some viewers. But for the rest of us, we want to see Gloria breakout of her confining life, and find a little more of the personal happiness she clearly deserves.
GLORIA BELL opens Friday, March 22, at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinema, the Hi-Pointe Theater and the Chase Park Plaza Cinema.
RATING: 3 out of 5 stars