They don’t make a lot of films, let alone R-rated romances, starring women over the age of 50. So what does it say that two recent examples are about the same woman? In this case, it mostly speaks to the evolution of Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, who follows up his English-language debut, Disobedience, and Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman with Gloria Bell, an American remake of his 2013 drama Gloria.
Both films center around a kind-hearted, free-spirited fiftysomething divorceé (played by Paulina Garcia in the original and Julianne Moore in the remake) who strikes up a relationship with a man she meets at a mature singles disco night. But he’s not the man he says he is, prompting both Glorias to reclaim their dignity as women. Plotwise, that’s about it—except for Gloria’s relationship with her grown children, ex-husband, and elderly mother. And her late-in-life experimentation with marijuana. And her laughter yoga classes. And her insurance-office job. And her concern for her mentally ill neighbor. And the annoying hairless cat who keeps breaking into her apartment when she’s not home.
More so than its predecessor, which painted Garcia’s Gloria as a rather lonely person, Gloria Bell makes a point of emphasizing that Gloria is a self-sufficient individual who views her romance with the passionate-but-secretive Arnold (John Turturro) as a nice bonus to an already full life. There’s a maid character written out of Gloria Bell, presumably because it’s more common for middle-class people to have full-time domestic help in South America. Otherwise, though, the two films are very similar in content. (Even some of the dialogue in Gloria Bell is borrowed from its Spanish-language predecessor.) The backdrop is different, and the songs are different, but the film’s affection for Gloria as she drives around singing along with the radio is the same.
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Those similarities offer a unique opportunity to chart Lelio’s evolution as a director over the past six years, and Gloria Bell does prove to be more aesthetically refined than its predecessor. Cinematographer Natasha Braier lights scenes either in neon pinks and blues reminiscent of her work on Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon or a softer, diffused version of the same palette, for a delicate, powdery look that, if the movie were presented in Smell-O-Vision, would offer the faint aroma of incense and rosewater. Editor Soledad Salfate, who edited the original Gloria, also refines her technique for the remake, transitioning between slices of Gloria’s life in Los Angeles with abrupt cuts that play out on screen like blinks of an eye. Lelio’s use of nostalgic hits like Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again, Naturally” to soundtrack emotional scenes is the one stylistic element that’s less than graceful. But even that on-the-nose quality is (mostly) charming.
The slimness of the plot—and its familiarity, if you’ve seen Lelio’s original film—also allows the viewer to focus on Gloria Bell’s true raison d’être: the one and only Julianne Moore. Lelio’s camera lingers admiringly on Moore, and the only one of her co-stars who even comes close to wrenching a scene away from her is Brad Garrett in a brief supporting role as Gloria’s remorseful ex-husband. Even in moments of distress for her character, Moore radiates joy and contentment, as well as the inner strength of a person who truly knows and likes herself. It’s an inspiring performance, particularly when you consider that the 58-year-old performs multiple fairly explicit nude scenes throughout the film—something that Moore’s never been shy about but which is nonetheless uncommon for actresses “of a certain age.” Extraordinary in its ordinariness, it’s an empathetic portrait of a life that women around the world are living every day but rarely get to see on screen.