Gloria Bell’ is Love Letter to its Star
FILM REVIEW Newport This Week
By Loren King
Julianne Moore plays Gloria in the comedy, romance film, “Gloria Bell.”
As if further proof were needed that Julianne Moore can play any character in any genre and light up the screen, along comes “Gloria Bell.” This deceptively light look at the inner life of a middle-aged, divorced woman who fends off loneliness and boredom by dancing at a local disco is a love letter to its central character and to the luminous Moore. In a seemingly effortless performance, she anchors the movie’s story, in which not much happens, yet everything happens.
“Gloria Bell” is the American version of writer-director Sebastián Lelio’s 2013 Chilean film “Gloria,” starring Paulina García, who earned critical acclaim as the titular character. It was Moore who persuaded Lelio to make an English-language version. Moore told Lelio, whose 2017 film “A Fantastic Woman” won the best foreign-language film, Oscar, that she would star in the new film, but only if he directed it.
“Gloria Bell” is basically a recreation of “Gloria.” Other than shifting the action from Santiago, Chile to Los Angeles, “Gloria Bell” is the same understated, gently comic, often bittersweet story about an ordinary woman, more or less content with her life, who takes a chance on a new romance.
Gloria lives alone, works in an insurance office and juggles relationships with her two grown kids (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius), ex-husband (Brad Garrett) and independent mother (Holland Taylor). Her day-to-day routine and simple pleasures are revealed with brief glimpses, such as the joy she takes in unselfconsciously singing to radio hits such as Olivia Newton John’s “A Little More Love” as she drives to work.
The film is like a musical of middle of-the-road pop hits. There’s Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” John Paul Young’s “Love is in the Air” and, of course, Laura Branigan’s irresistible 1980s dance hit, “Gloria.”
Gloria spends most nights dancing, sometimes alone, sometimes not, at a nightclub that draws an older crowd. That’s where she meets the shy, newly divorced Arnold (John Turturro). The two begin a romance that has all the awkward fits and starts of reality, but that radiates on screen thanks to the performances of its two stars.
It’s easy to see why Arnold would fall for the likable Gloria; it’s not as clear what she sees in him, particularly when his phone lights up constantly with nagging messages from his ex-wife and his two grown daughters who constantly need him for something. Still, Arnold has his charms and we get the sense that the magic of a love interest hasn’t sparked for Gloria in quite some time.
Arnold takes Gloria to the amusement park he owns where she skydives and learns to shoot paintball. She learns that Arnold is a former Marine, with an interest in guns. That’s not even the reddest of the red flags. When they take a weekend trip to Las Vegas, Arnold inexplicably disappears, leaving Gloria alone. Moore plays this turn with subtle shifts from cautious happiness to vulnerability to defiance that she will not be a victim. Gloria stays in Vegas, a place that can seem desolate and lonely even under the best of circumstances.
The moody Arnold apologies and explains, and he and Gloria reconcile until the film’s darkly comic centerpiece scene, a dinner party at Gloria’s son’s house at which Arnold, meeting her family for the first time, makes a less-than-favorable impression. The resilient Gloria bounces back again, with a final scene likely to leave much of the audience cheering.
Moore shines in every second of the film as she navigates the full emotional spectrum. An American movie centered on an ordinary middle-aged woman is enough cause for celebration. But “Gloria Bell” revels in its small, telling moments, such as Gloria laughing boisterously with other women in her yoga class, dealing with an annoying neighbor or a frustrated coworker, or just letting a great song wash over her. With subtlety and grace, Moore captures Gloria’s joie de vivre and her determination to keeping dancing as long as the music moves her.