Gloria Bell: Film Review

Rating: 4

By Jason Solomons

Julianne Moore is flat-out terrific in Sebastián Lelio’s American remake of his own Chilean film, Gloria, from 2013.

The Hollywood version comes with its own oomph, and it’s interesting to see how a flicker of star wattage alters one’s perception of basically the same movie. It’s not a shot-for-shot remake and, in fact, feels fresher and less downbeat, although perhaps that’s simply down to the shift in locale and leading lady. 

Moore is just as good, though very different to, Paulina Garcia, who played Gloria the first time around and won Best Actress at Berlin for her performance as a still-vital woman in her early 60s, looking for love on the Santiago singles scene.

Moore’s Gloria Bell, sporting the signature big ‘Gloria’ glasses, is in Los Angeles, going out dancing to disco classics and shouting along to power ballads on the car radio as she drives to her job selling insurance in a drab office block. She lives alone, suffers a noisy upstairs neighbour and puts up with a persistent visiting stray cat. She visits her son (Michael Cera) and baby grandchild occasionally, as well as her yoga-teacher daughter, occasionally enlisting in one of her classes. 

She strikes up a new relationship with John Turturro, who’s also great here, playing Arnold, a man with many problems, including a new gastric band which has made him lose loads of weight but which means Gloria has to rip off a Velcro corset around his tummy when they have sex, that noise crunching through any sexy momentum the scene might have built up, bringing the reality of ageing bodies and the embarrassment of undressing with strangers into stark light. Arnold runs a paint-balling  company that sells the masculine experience to dull executives, but he’s also struggling to assert his authority at home – he says he’s separated but has clear issues letting his marriage go and seems embarrassed about his own children. Or maybe he’s simply cheating.

Ultimately, that’s what the film’s about, Gloria’s delusions and dreams, and Moore’s amazing at capturing every fleeting emotion. It’s a wonderful character study, this film, and a masterclass performance, flitting between hopeful and hopeless, with moments of cringeworthy comedy and bitter pain. Julianne Moore can dictate the tenor of a scene with a twitch of her mouth or a sag of the shoulders, her body a barometer of misplaced hope or a lighting rod of barely-concealed passion. 

We don’t often see a woman of a certain age dominate the screen like this and Moore grabs the opportunity with relish, revealing herself entirely and, in Gloria, giving us a brilliant portrait of a life that needs to be heard. 

And what fun she has with those songs, from a great scene using Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart to Gloria Gaynor’s defiant I Will Survive and, of course, that titular anthem by Laura Branigan, a song whose lyrics may well have inspired the whole movie: ‘I think you’re headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it… If everybody wants you, why isn’t anybody calling? You don’t have to answer, leave them hanging on the line, oh-oh-oh, calling Gloria.’ 

Never mind the cinema, I’ll see you at the karaoke…