As filmmaking challenges go, a movie with the resplendent Julianne Moore at its center, where the camera is as enamored with her as we are, is not exactly a difficult hurdle to clear (see: Still Alice). When that film is a highly-anticipated English adaptation of a widely praised Chilean original, the stakes are understandably a bit higher, particularly when the adaptation is helmed by the same filmmaker who made the original.
Such is the case with Gloria Bell, the English-language update to Sebastian Lelio’s original Gloria of 2014, a film that starred Paulina Garcia as a middle-aged woman determined to get her groove back, or at least survive the journey to doing so. The case could be made that Lelio (who won an Oscar in 2017 for A Fantastic Woman, which is a fantastic film) didn’t really need to make this English version at all. Gloria is a glorious film, inspiring and heartwarming as is; anyone wanting to experience the story can easily queue it up and enjoy.
But let’s be honest: a version without subtitles will (theoretically) reach a whole lot more American audiences than the original, however wonderful that film may be. And lest we forget: Julianne Moore. One could stop reading right now and take that as recommendation enough to snag a ticket on opening weekend. Need more?
Moore’s Gloria is a divorced insurance agent in Los Angeles, with two grown children who don’t call her enough and a knack for filling her free time that any single woman, regardless of age, can identify with. She tries a yoga class her daughter’s teaching; she participates in a “laugh workshop;” and favorite of all, she takes herself dancing a few times a week, getting dolled up to sip on martinis (twist of lemon, no olives) and shake it on the dance floor with a rotating selection of single men.
One night at the club, she catches the eye of Arnold (a pitch-perfect John Turturro), and the two cautiously embark on a new relationship. He’s also divorced, also has grown children (daughters dependent on him to an unhealthy degree), and looks at Gloria in a way she likely hasn’t enjoyed in ages. At twenty or nearly sixty, it’s the kind of look that sends butterflies fluttering through anyone, a new spark of love that’s as exciting as it is terrifying.
Lelio’s adaptation stays essentially faithful to his original, finding its tension and emotional stakes in relationships rather than circumstances. By conventional standards, Gloria’s life is simultaneously robust––full of friends, family, work and hobbies––and bleak––living alone, struggling to feel worthy, loved, wanted. Lelio’s ability to craft complicated, layered female characters is on full display here, bolstered by Moore’s profound talent for inhabiting them. Several minutes go by in the film’s most thoughtful moments without so much as a word of dialogue, and they’re as riveting as any conversation between characters. Moore seduces without pandering, she intoxicates without indulging.
A soundtrack chock full of pop hits follows Gloria through her narrative; from the dance floor to her car stereo and in between, music is everywhere. Each song, if a bit obvious in their placement, is nevertheless spot-on as we get to know her better and more intimately. Like so much else in this adaptation, the music as a central driving force is grafted directly from the original, all culminating in the exceptional final moments of a film filled with them. Gloria takes the dance floor one last time (at least, in the time we spend with her), and it’s clear to everyone, especially herself, that she’s going to be just fine.
There are countless movies made every year about men living their lives, about them finding their way or overcoming crises, both real and imagined. Fewer and farther between, of course, are films that allow a woman the same space, and this is what’s most noteworthy in Lelio’s recent films. In Gloria Bell, as in Gloria and A Fantastic Woman, she is allowed to simply exist. Though at times she is wife or ex- or mother or friend, in the end she is nothing more and nothing less than herself, whole and of value just as she is, imperfect and beautiful all at the same time.