Gloria Bell April 15, 2019
1 Hr., 42 Mins.
loria Bell’s daughter (Caren Pistorius) is dating an extreme surfer. Week after week, he travels the world looking for abnormally large waves to chase. Gloria (Julianne Moore), by contrast, is content pursuing the smaller ones (of life, that is). It’s really all she can do. She is in her late 50s, has been divorced for 12 years now, works a predictable desk job, and lives alone. She has few friends; her kids are grown. Her days are so
prone to mimicking each other that you could put a pair of week-apart Mondays up on a screen, display them side by side, and see for yourself how tiny the differences are. Acutely aware of the monotony, Gloria, at the beginning of the movie in which she's the titular heroine, steps back into the dating scene. Proceed with caution.
This isn’t the first time cinemagoers have voyeuristically viewed the day-to-day life of a middle-aged woman named Gloria. (And no, I’m not talking about the 1980 movie where a nail-tough woman named Gloria protects a kid being chased down by the mob.) In 2013, the Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio put out a movie called Gloria, which starred Paulina García as the eponymous protagonist and built a minimalist narrative almost identical to the one described above.
It was a drama that garnered steep critical praise and also the attention of Moore, who immediately coordinated a meeting with Lelio after seeing the film. The initial get-together was slightly gawky, at least at first. Both people had it in their heads that it might be a good idea to remake Gloria for American audiences but were unfoundedly convinced that the other person wasn’t wanting to do a reimagining. Stranger things have happened.
I haven’t seen the 2013 version of the feature, but I’m told that Gloria Bell adopts many of the things that made it so distinctive: the comically large glasses worn by the heroine; scenes aplenty that find Gloria breathlessly singing along with pop tunes while she drives to work. If Gloria is a mirror image of Gloria Bell, then, then that must mean that it's an exquisite, affecting portrait of a woman who yearns for a life that the universe isn’t so sure it wants to give her, too.
The movie scrutinizes Gloria’s everyday life so closely that it, in the hands of a lesser filmmaker than Lelio, could inspire boredom. Some of the film is thoroughly alive — usually during scenes involving Gloria navigating her relationships with her kids (the other one played by an uncharacteristically nondescript Michael Cera), who love her yet also seem like they don’t want all that much to do with her, or in scenes involving a new relationship with a guy named Arnold (John Turturro), who owns a paintball playground, used to be nearly 300 pounds, and is prone to temporarily freezing his new lady love out at the most baffling of times.
Much else is also intentionally static. Lelio is so much fixated on catching even the smallest of trivia in Gloria’s life that he’s unopposed to making long sequences out of banalities. Spectacles are made out of Gloria brushing her teeth, washing her undergarments in the sink, lying naked on top of her bed with her pet cat, smoking pot on the floor of her living room, dancing alone at a party.
But it is also exactly this determination to capture what it feels like to be Gloria Bell at this particular moment in time — regardless of whether that means tedium is more ever-present than excitement — that makes the film so anomalously moving. So often do we meet characters in movies whom we get to know and like yet still feel a little distant from. With Gloria Bell, the sensation turns alien. We feel so enmeshed in this heroine and the life she leads that we’re almost a little unsettled by the connection we form.
Lelio’s co-writing and direction is detailed as to make even the feature’s comedy, which bubbles up surprisingly often, have an organic undercurrent rather than a contrived one; Moore, giving one of the great performances of her great-performance-heavy career, inspires such empathy that there came a point in the movie where I noticed that my facial expressions almost exactly matched the ones she was giving on screen. “I think the way Lelio filmed her,” Moore said of García in an interview with IndieWire, “it was so intimate and full … I like seeing movies about people, period.” What Moore loved about the original Gloria, in a rare twist for the remake subgenre, can be also said about Gloria Bell. A