Film Review: Julianne Moore Navigates Middle-Aged Romance in Gloria Bell

The Pitch: For some, life begins at forty; this homily is particularly true for fiftysomething divorcee Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore), who’s determined to not let middle age dampen her desire to live her best life. Her children are all grown up — her son Peter (Michael Cera) is an aloof single dad, while her younger daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius) is beginning a new life with a Swedish big-wave surfer — leaving her to seek out sex and romance in the neon light of singles discos. There, she meets a handsome, self-effacing man named Arnold (John Turturro), himself reeling from a fresh divorce; as he and Gloria grow closer, the complications of starting over with half your life already lived come to bear in unexpected ways.

You’re Always on the Run Now: Like the version of the titular Laura Branigan song that plays in the closing minutes of Gloria Bell, Sebastián Lelio‘s latest is another type of cover — a remake of his own 2013 film Gloria. (Incidentally, that film uses the original Umberto Tozzi version of the song.) Both iterations of this particular tale are sumptuous, darkly comic and ultimately warm stories of older women finding their own version of power. However, after similarly sumptuous but somewhat tragic films like A Fantastic Woman and DisobedienceGloria Bell feels more life-affirming, more explicitly comic. In many respects it’s a beat-for-beat remake of Gloria, with only a few cultural details swapped out, but the tale translates quite well.

Why Isn’t Anybody Calling?: “If the world goes down, I hope I go down dancing,” Gloria says to her Boomer friends (Chris Mulkey and Rita Wilson) once a lunch date turns to apocalyptic talk about guns and climate change; this ethos sums up Gloria, and Moore’s confident performance, quite well. Few actresses explore the anxieties and challenges of living gracefully through aging like Moore, whether in Still Alice or The Kids Are All Right; her Gloria feels of a piece with those other vibrant, alive, endearingly natural women. Despite her soft-spokenness and occasionally avoidant tendencies, there’s a strength in Gloria that Moore lets out at all the right moments. Whether she’s holding a paintball gun for the first time, or enjoying hurried sex with Arnold, Moore feels right at home in Gloria’s skin, confidently self-actualized.

The genius of Lelio’s approach is that he lets the cracks in Gloria’s perfectly mature, controlled life seep through in the periphery. Her upstairs neighbor is a shouting, manic-depressive brute, constantly heard through the walls as Gloria tries to ignore him. During an eye exam, she learns that her eyesight is slowly diminishing, and she’ll need to take medication for the rest of her life to fight it off. The mundanity of these events play into Lelio’s treatment of the small defeats of age; as you get older, parts of you will slowly decay, and you’ll just have to make the best of it. The joy of Gloria Bell, however, is that she won’t let those things get her down. She’ll half-sing pop hits in the car and shoot paintballs at people in revenge, and carry on with her life without missing a single step.

You Gotta Get Him Somehow: Movies about older romances are exceedingly rare, particularly when they offer a more physical component than the typical chaste promises of late-life companionship. In this respect, Gloria Bell hearkens back to A24’s last release about middle-aged sexuality, The Lovers. Both are films which commit to the premise that men and women who aren’t young, lithe twentysomethings can still be sexy and have their own desires. In this respect, Gloria Bell is refreshingly frank and funny; love scenes between Gloria and Turturro’s unexpectedly sexy divorcee are punctuated by the ripping of Velcro in the dark, Gloria tossing aside Arnold’s girdle before they go to town. It’s played for laughs, but only a brief one. The sex is earnest and, for both parties, enjoyable.

All the Voices In Your Head: Of course, life is never as stable as we’d like it to be, and both Gloria and Arnold struggle to balance the old lives they already started with the new lives they want to begin. Arnold is never far from his phone, in case his financially dependent adult daughters call him to drop everything and fix their problems. Gloria is similarly linked to her first family, and a few drinks visibly reconnect her with her ex-husband Dustin (Brad Garrett, in an unexpected and solid cameo) during Arnold’s first date to meet her kids. Feeling neglected, he wanders away without warning — a shitty move, to be sure. But Lelio takes care to help us understand the perspectives of even the most self-centered characters. These are people who formed strong bonds and started families while young, and wish like hell they could start from scratch now that those chapters of their lives are over.

The Verdict: In translating the Chilean original into an American context, a few things about Lelio’s film get lost in translation — there’s a whole undercurrent of Chilean culture running beneath the 2013 original that has no modern American equivalent, for instance. Where the original explored middle-aged recklessness as a desire to run away from the specter of Pinochet, Gloria Bell swims in the broader existential malaise of American baby boomers, a generation characterized by their impending obsolescence. That’s not going to stop Gloria, though; give her some disco lights and enough white wine, and she’ll go down dancing.

Where’s It Playing?: Gloria Bell is slipping into her best dress and swaying to the music in limited release beginning March 8th.

Trailer:

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