Movies that center on women over the age of 50 are unfortunately, a rarity in Hollywood. According to a study from San Diego State University, only 8% of women seen in the top 100 domestic grossing movies of 2018 were over the age of 50. Movies like Gloria Bell, movies about complicated, older women, should be common and ordinary, not precious gems. However, with the world being the way it is, it’s wonderful that Gloria Bell is a treasure.
Academy Award winner Julianne Moore (Far from Heaven, Still Alice) stars in the titular role of Gloria, a long-time divorced insurance agent living in a small apartment in Los Angeles. In her day-to-day life, she balances her work with her personal life, which involves her two adult children Peter and Anne (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius). At nights, Gloria goes out clubbing, sipping drinks and dancing the night way to disco. She’s out looking for love, which is hard to do when you’re a divorcée with a career. One night, she runs across Arnold (John Turturro, The Big Lebowski), a recently divorced owner of a paintball range. They’re instantly attracted to each other, but how long their romance lasts depends on their mutual trust and dedication. Not helping matters, his ex-wife and grown children keep calling him, demanding attention and money.
Fresh off his Oscar win for A Fantastic Woman, director Sebastián Leilo has updated his 2013 film Gloria by bringing the story from Chile to the United States, and adding some major American talent to the cast. Remakes of foreign films rarely end up being good, so it’s miraculous that this remake is a resounding success. This is mainly due to Julianne Moore’s tremendous performance. The film is a fascinating character study, and Moore brings so much vitality and depth to the role that by the time the end credits roll, you feel as if you know Gloria personally as a friend. She’s unafraid to flatly sing along to “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, be cross with Arnold, and keep searching for the life that she deserves to have. She’s magnetic, and if there’s any justice in the world, her name will be called to win Best Actress at the Oscars next February.
Hyperbolic fanboy enthusiasm aside, Moore’s performance also hints at a darker side to Gloria. She might be the life of the party, but she’s flawed, unhappy, and sometimes even furious with the way life has treated her. Leilo helps to fill in these darker edges with the story, which takes a different direction from the traditional soapy romantic comedy formula. Los Angeles and the people inhabiting it are not shown to be a happy-go-lucky place, but a realistic city filled with people just looking for a connection. In the post #MeToo world, Gloria’s agency as a character is thrilling to watch. She’s not perfect, and that makes a difference when we want to root for our protagonist. It makes their victories all the more satisfying.
Adding to the complexity of the film is the way it handles the various subplots, all revolving around different parts of her life. Gloria’s children aren’t perfect, but they’re doing the best they can to have their own lives. Peter’s wife has left him alone with an infant while she finds herself in the desert, and Anne is preparing to move to Sweden for her surfer boyfriend. Gloria’s ex-husband Dustin (Brad Garrett, excellent in his lengthy, one-sequence appearance) still cares about her, but doesn’t want to win her back . Arnold isn’t exactly the best boyfriend either, and Turturro is remarkable at balancing the shifts from warm and tender to cold and distant. This isn’t a rom-com in the vein of Long Shot or Overboard; instead, we’re given a much more interesting, more filling, more complex film.
Gloria says at one point, during a dinner with friends, that “…when the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing”. By the final scene, you’ll be dancing right alongside her. Gloria Bell is truly something special.
Gloria Bell is currently expanding across the country in limited release.