Gloria Bell, 2018.
Directed by Sebastián Lelio.
Starring Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius, Holland Taylor, Brad Garrett and Sean Astin.
A middle-aged divorcée begins to reclaim her lust for life when she starts a new relationship.
The drive to remake foreign language films in English is often a sad one – a mark of the fact that American and British audiences are notoriously afraid of reading subtitles. Sometimes, though, the original filmmaker themselves decides to have a go at giving their work a revamp for audiences in the Anglophone world. Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio is the latest director to step up to the plate, remaking his 2013 movie Gloria as Gloria Bell, with Julianne Moore in the title role.
Moore’s Gloria is a divorcée who spends her weekends dancing with carefree ease at nightclubs and attending weird laughter therapy classes. She meets Arnold (John Turturro) on one of her nights out and learns that he too has just separated from his wife. They quickly bond and soon she’s introducing him to her children, Peter (Michael Cera) and Anne (Caren Pistorius). The subsequent movie sees their relationship challenged by Arnold’s timid approach to love and Gloria’s struggles with single life.
That this film works at all is entirely down to Julianne Moore. Her performance is natural and engaging as Gloria maintains a facade of excitement and lust for life, but there’s a palpable sense of tragic sadness that is permanently visible just beneath the surface. Holland Taylor delivers a great supporting turn as Gloria’s sardonic, but loving, mother. In these scenes, Moore allows the facade to slip and the result is an example of pure arrested development. After the breakdown of her marriage, Gloria has regressed to the status of immature party girl and, at times, that girl needs her mother.
Music is hugely important to the film, which is soundtracked by a pulsating compilation of disco hits and power ballads that either support the flashing lights of the clubs or provide material for Moore’s lovable driving seat sing-alongs that pepper the film. When the music is present, there’s an enjoyable energy to Gloria Bell. There is, however, the constant feeling that this enjoyable soundtrack is winding inexorably towards a certain, rather inevitable Laura Branigan track.
This is a rather loose, narratively casual movie that struggles to ever create much in the way of genuine emotion, slipping too often into overwrought set pieces and melodrama. John Turturro gets the worst of these moments, as a character whose actions very rarely seem to make much sense. The film’s decision to stick to Moore is understandable, but there’s not enough time spent examining why Turturro’s character acts the way he does, leaving their relationship feeling somewhat hollow.
Indeed, Gloria Bell is at its best when it embraces its slightly awkward sense of humour. A dinner table scene in which Gloria’s family interrogates Arnold is delightfully uncomfortable, while a running gag about a neighbour’s cat lands rather less well. It is, in many ways, a metaphor for Lelio’s film itself – a movie that succeeds more often than it fails, but occasionally overreaches into areas it can’t quite pull off.
Were it not for the powerhouse presence of Moore, disco dancing and carpool karaoke-ing her way through the movie, Gloria Bell would be a somewhat disappointing film, lacking the emotional impact of Lelio’s previous English language film – the very good Disobedience. However, with one of the most talented actors on the planet in almost every frame of the movie, Lelio is just about able to stick the landing here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.