From Michael Haneke’s Funny Games to Takashi Shimizu’s The Grudge, there has been a fairly rich history of filmmakers taking another stab one of their successful works, most commonly to bring their original foreign language film to a wider English speaking audience. Hot off the heels of his Oscar winning A Fantastic Woman and his debut English language feature Disobedience, director Sebastián Lelio is joining that club with a remake of his own.
Remade from Lelio’s 2013 Spanish-Chilean drama Gloria, Gloria Bell tells the story of a middle aged divorcee (Julianne Moore) as she navigates the tricky world of romance and relationships in one’s fifties. After meeting at a disco themed club night, Gloria begins a whirlwind romance with fellow divorcee Arnold (John Turturro), and the film proceeds as an exploration of all of the complications and obstacles that surround a relationship when ex spouses, adult children and unavoidable family commitments all come in to play.
Firstly I should say that I haven’t seen the 2013 original, so this review is going to be completely stand alone. My overarching feelings about Gloria Bell are that it is just a ‘good’ film that has the advantage of a great performance, which to be honest has been the key description of the majority of Best Actress fodder through the years. The trailer might lead you to believe that the picture is a quirky, happy go lucky kind of story, but there is something much more melancholy at the heart of Gloria Bell that really makes it something more than some generic middle aged ‘dramedy’.
Melancholy really is the word with this one. The audience sees Gloria going from day to day in a sort of eager to please haze, attending yoga classes run by her daughter but sneaking cigarettes afterwards, trying to be helpful to her single father son whose wife is away ‘finding herself’ in the desert. There is a quiet desperation and holding oneself together than accompanies everything the protagonist does, and you root for her so hard as a result. The central romance between Gloria and Arnold is one that will probably be familiar to many divorced singletons out there, with the task of maybe building a life together when there are so many other components to consider being one that causes a lot of tension and awkwardness throughout the narrative.
One of the film’s greatest elements is its amazing musical soundtrack. The choices of 70s and 80s classics really define Gloria as a character, harking back to a time that she considered her ‘prime’, but also with their high energy and nostalgia working to create a balance between the melancholy motions of the plot. Ultimately the film is one that definitely does grab your attention and the endearing life circumstances of the main character will have you invested in no time. It might not be the most gripping or the most razor sharp, but there is no doubting that it is a solid character piece that allows its leading lady to shine.
And boy, what a leading lady she is. Julianne Moore only continues to get better and better with age, and she is completely captivating as the titular Gloria Bell. There is something that Moore in particular does extremely well, this kind of ‘false smile’, brave face thing that many of her roles have demanded in the past, that suits this protagonist down to a tee. Your heart breaks for her struggles and swells for her triumphs, she’s just a joy to watch from start to finish. When a film is so laser focused on the plights of a single character like this is, the whole thing lives and dies on the central performance, and you don’t need me to tell you that Julianne Moore is the kind of actress that could carry anything.
As Arnold, John Turturro exudes many of his trademark performance quirks. There is a charm and an intensity about him, but also a slight tinge of desperation that makes the character a more complex and interesting one that perhaps he is on the page. Together, the pair have an interesting chemistry, one that in one moment feels natural and predestined, and the next feels awkward and doomed from the start. It’s a partnership that you are always worried about, but one that is also endlessly watchable.
Several supporting roles are enjoyably filled by the likes of Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor and Caren Pistorious, who all bring an assured and mature tone to the movie.
Overall, Gloria Bell is an interesting dramedy that exudes a peculiar feeling of both warmth and melancholy at the same time. How it manages to maintain two tones at either end of the spectrum feels solely down to the fantastic performance of Julianne Moore. At the end of the day, the film is a classic character study, and Moore takes the material and really creates something memorable. It is a film that reveals some really quite brutal home truths, but at the same time has bursts of triumph and joy that are so infectious when paired with the brilliant soundtrack. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll definitely want to sing.