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Sebastian Lelio is probably best known to American audiences, if he's known at all, for his 2017 film A Fantastic Woman, a movie which would go on to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. However, four years prior to that, he made a well regarded movie called Gloria, the story of a free spirited older woman. Now, Lelio has returned to the same story, with a new cast, and a new language.
Gloria Bell is a remake of Gloria in almost every possible sense of the term. If you have seen Gloria, every shot of this English language version will look familiar. If, however, foreign language films aren't your style, then this more accessible version should be embraced, because Gloria Bell is a beautiful film with a remarkable lead performance that should be witnessed by all.
Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) is 58 years old. She's been divorced for 12 years and has spent most or all of that time living alone. She likes to go out dancing and it's on one of her evenings out that she meets Arnold (John Turturro), a freshly divorced former Marine. The two hit it off and a relationship begins to form.
While the ups and downs of this newly formed couple may take up a large portion of the run time of Gloria Bell, it's still somewhat difficult to say that it's what the film is actually about. Ultimately, it's simply about Gloria, and the life that she is living as a 58-year-old single woman. If this were a movie about a teenager or somebody in their mid-20s I'd call it a coming of age story. Most of those same elements are here, navigating life and love and trying to find one's place in the world.
Of course, Gloria Bell is much older than that, which is part of what makes the film so fascinating. It's clear that Gloria has had her coming of age moments already. She knows who she is, she's comfortable in her own skin. She navigates the world mostly alone, but never does she seem without the confidence to do so. Arnold still isn't sure how to handle being divorced, in many ways, we learn, that he really isn't yet. Gloria has been there and done that.
The movie industry seems focused exclusively on the younger demographic, which means that the vast majority of movies are about that younger demographic. Gloria Bell is refreshing because it allows an older woman to be an older woman, thus reminding us that they still have something to offer as film subjects. Gloria may be older but she's not dead yet. She has dreams and desires just like the rest of us.
Julianne Moore has always been a great actress, there's nothing new in that statement, but her performance in Gloria Bell is herculean in scope. Not only is Moore in every scene of the film, she's in every shot of the camera (unless I missed the one where she was missing). There's never a moment where we don't see what Gloria is doing. When another character is talking on the phone, we're with Gloria to follow her reaction to the call. When she's singing along (off-key) to a song on the radio (a song which always fits with where we are in Gloria's emotional arc), we're there.
At times, it can feel like a little too much. There's nothing tawdry in what we see but watching Gloria wash her underwear in the sink and then stop to pluck a hair from her chin feels almost voyeuristic. Like we're seeing something that we aren't supposed to. That's how intimate it all is.
It's made all the more intimate by the fact that Moore spends so much of the film alone. Gloria visits her kids and seems to have a good relationship with them, but they have lives of their own, as well. We meet one acquaintance Gloria has at her job, but we only see her in relation to her job. They never go out for a drink after work. Few people see Gloria most of the time, which makes the fact that we do all the more personal.
Julianne Moore's performance, every word, every facial expression, tells a story all its own. If Gloria Bell came out eight months from now we'd at least be wondering if Moore would be up for awards. By next fall most people will probably have forgotten this movie came out at all, which is a shame.
The rest of the cast, which includes Brad Garrett as Gloria's ex and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his new wife, does equally well, but none of them are more than tertiary characters. We see flickers of other stories in them, Gloria's son (Michael Cera) is having marriage problems of his own. Gloria's daughter clearly has unresolved issues with Gloria's ex, but none of these stories are important beyond how they impact Gloria during the time we spend with her. Sean Astin briefly appears as a character who isn't in the movie long enough to have any lines.
To say the movie is a "slow burn" would be an understatement. While the events in Gloria's life certainly have drama, there's never a feeling that even the most dramatic events will really have much of an impact. If we had spent time with Gloria a year earlier in her life, or a year later, it feels like we would see the same person. It's not clear why seeing this part of her story was any more important than any other. If Gloria is a significantly different person at the end of the story than she was at the beginning, it's not that obvious.
In the end, however, spending any time with Julianne Moore and Gloria Bell is time worth spending. Gloria Bell is about showing that just because somebody has gotten older, it doesn't mean that their life is over. It also shows that movies about those people still have a place as well.