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.