After breaking out onto the international film scene with A Fantastic Woman, Sebastian Lelio returns to cinemas with his second English language feature Gloria Bell. A remake of his native Chilean film Gloria, in which starred the ‘Meryl Streep of Latin American Cinema’, Paulina García, Lelio in this outing casts the mercurial Julianne Moore in the titular role.
Again working with a strong female cast and lead, the director brings compassionate voyeurism to capturing her daily life. Moore too brings her own history of creating well rounded female characters. In this case, the role free-spirited woman fits like a glove for a colourful US remake. Opening in a neon-lit LA nightclub, Motown and disco accompany the film’s bright opening credits. Blasted across the dance floor, its beats infuse dancers into a uniformed groove.
In amongst this crowd, the camera tracks with Gloria as she moves towards the dance floor. With a stern martini in hand, she is at one with being in this atmosphere. Dancing the night away with newly acquainted fellow disco lovers, her rhythmic dance moves do not hide the character’s search for affection. Swiftly cutting to Gloria waking up alone in her small well light apartment, a sense of loneliness does not loom, but a feeling of simply getting on with life.
Delivering quite snapshots of her life, thanks to Soledad Salfate’s swift editing, Lelio presents intimate moments of Gloria’s daily life as she passionately sings whilst driving to work. In the performance of Moore, her body language and more peculiarly singing evoke an omnipresent sense of longing. Specifically, in the very on the nose songs she listens to on her car journeys, such as Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, it’s hard not to see such longing.
Still, in these snapshot images of Gloria’s world, the adapted screenplay by Alice Johnson Boher, writer Gonzalo Maza and the director imbue the character with a desire to discover and try new things. Attending her daughter’s yoga classes, Lelio never depicts his lead character as someone who is uninspired or giving up on life. On the contrary, she is a grandmother who supports her somewhat lost son, as played by Michael Cera, as well as still having a well-rounded relationship with her ex-husband (Brad Garrett). In this world, men and women share the same emotions, without it being imbalanced or melodramatic. Chiefly within this balance of desire and loneliness, Gloria Bell strikes its charming universal chord.
The initial first half an hour of the film defines these themes in a poignantly heavy-handed fashion. Strengthened by the appearance of John Turturro’s Arnold, romance blooms between the two against the backdrop of Gloria’s much-beloved disco and neon-lit nightclub. Recently divorced and having undergone life-changing weight loss, Arnold is a confident gentleman who is a passionate lover. Gloria and he find solace in one another’s free-spirited approach to middle age. Still, in certain tender moments, his two highly demanding children interrupt their time together by persistently calling him. Initially bringing a vulnerability to the role, the script does Turturro’s performance little favours by developing the character as genuine emotional delinquent. In specific moments unexplained decisions, Arnold becomes a frustrating character to observe. Granted this Lelio’s intention to juxtapose Gloria’s good nature, yet his character arc feels like a poor misfire in this remake.
Flirting with thematic tones of the rom-com, Lelio plays a very comedic hand when it comes to certain elements of Gloria and Arnold’s relationship. Upon a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the two visit Caesars’ Palace. Playing out as a wine induced female-focused version of The Hangover, this peculiar sequence involves an awfully strange cameo that feels another misfire and completely out of place. Misplacing the realism that is initially created, this decision leaves a lingering doubt over the emotional complexity of the script.
Throughout the whole runtime, the cinematography and lighting are immaculate. After working with the maverick Nicholas Winding Refn on The Neon Demon and David Michôd on The Rover, Natasha Braier’s work provides some of the most visually arresting seen in 2019. Adopting warm vivid colours, the nightclub sequences possess a great deal of beauty.
Reflecting Lelio’s comfortable ability to create pure cinematic images, merging sight and sound to create emotion, the final sequence is self-aware to use Laura Branigan – Gloria. After an emotive narrative, this moment is a pure cathartic one for Moore’s character. The song, like the character, leaves a glittering cheerful afterglow. Still, on reflection, the whole affair feels perfectly adequate – nothing more or nothing less. As always, Moore delivers a nuanced portrayal of a middle-aged woman that is as sumptuous to watch as her graceful ageing on screen over decades worth of work.