‘Gloria Bell’ Dances To Its Own Beat

Courtesy of A24
Courtesy of A24

Usually, a filmmaker remaking his own movie is suicide. An example I always remember is Japanese director Takashi Shimizu remaking his 1998 horror film Ju-On as 2004’s The Grudge, starring Buffy The Vampire Slayer starlet Sarah Michelle Gellar, and, that didn’t exactly go well. Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s career certainly doesn’t need an English-language remake of his 2013 film Gloria, which starred Paulina García in a role that earned her select awards recognition. Since then, Lelio has won an Oscar for best foreign film, 2017’s A Fantastic Woman, one of my personal favorite movies of that year. He has also directed and co-written the well-received English-language romantic drama Disobedience. Lelio has said that Gloria Bell is a ‘reimagining’ of Gloria, although it seems as if Gloria Bell only exists because subtitle-phobic American audiences did not see Gloria. And also because who doesn’t like Julianne Moore?

Gloria Bell follows its titular character (Moore), a woman in her 50s navigating the unpredictable path of life post-divorce. She has a friendly, non-smothery relationship with her children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius), and she has a job that brings her some joy. She frequents the kind of fantasy bar that only exists in fiction, a happening well-lit dance club where people in their 50s are all dancing to 70’s disco music. There, she meets Arnold (John Turturro), a man with whom she begins to forge a relationship, but that’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The film follows her tricky tightrope walk to happiness and what really goes into that.

Let’s get this out of the way first, this is 100% Julianne Moore’s movie. She’s giving a reliably terrific performance that is nuanced and muted, rather than big and showy. Every moment we spend with Gloria, and she’s rarely, if ever off screen, we learn more about her past and her motivations and why she’s the way she is, and what it means for this character to be at this particular moment in her life. Moore’s interpretation of this character is very different from García’s, even if the film itself follows a lot of similar beats. When the moment calls for it, and the character has finally had enough, Moore dials up the intensity, but the performance never loses its nuance. ‘When the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing,’ Gloria says at one point to a group of friends, and you know she’ll light up the dance floor.

The rest of the cast here is fine, but everyone is predictably one-upped by Moore. We spend the most time with her character, and her journey is really the only one that matters here, so I guess this is par for the course. In any event, we have John Turturro as the love interest, and his performance is cold and odd. You understand how Gloria could find him charming, but also want to keep him at something of a distance. We also have Brad Garrett as her ex-husband and he shows up once or twice and does nothing memorable. Holland Taylor also pops up twice as Gloria’s mother, and even with limited screen time, the way she interacts with Moore paints a vivid picture of the mother-daughter dynamic at play, and you leave with a strong understanding of what this relationship is.

Lelio certainly makes sure this looks beautiful. From the vibrant bolts of light shining in the bar when Gloria is dancing by herself in absolute ecstasy, compared to the awkward silences at a family dinner where a lot is going unsaid, it all looks extreme and lively, thanks to Lelio’s deft hand behind the camera and the work of cinematographer Natasha Braier.

Now, did Gloria Bell have to happen? I guess not. It doesn’t say anything in a remarkably different way from Gloria. But I’m certainly glad it did happen. It’s such a joy to watch Julianne Moore sink her teeth into a juicy, real, complex character, especially one like this that you don’t see leading a lot of Hollywood movies. It won’t have broad appeal, because it sinks into a lot of the same arthouse traps that foreign films like Gloria do – hushed, muted tone, subtle to a fault, methodical but slow pace. I don’t see this playing with serious crowd-pleaser appeal, but to the niche audience that still goes to see thoughtful character studies about women will undoubtedly be satisfied with this ‘reimagining’ of Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria, because the message remains the same, ‘face the music and dance.’

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