Full disclosure: I did not realize until I sat down to write this review that Gloria Bell is director Sebastián Lelio’s English language remake of his own Chilean film from 2013, which got a U.S. run in 2014 and which I did not like. It’s a curious experience to re-read that review I wrote five years ago, describing a film virtually identical to this one but with different actors, and yet — this one, I actually liked.
I’d have to re-watch the original to truly jog my own memory about it, but one key difference seems to be the editing: one of my chief complaints about the original was its scenes that went on for minutes too long. That movie cocked in at an hour and 50 minutes and felt twenty minutes too long; this one is all of eight minutes shorter, and honestly it still could have worked better with maybe ten minutes shaved off — but, it undeniably works better regardless.
A key factor here could be nothing short of experience. I never made the connection until now, that Lelio also directed the very good film about Jewish lesbians, Disobedience (2017), as well as the truly excellent, semi-fantastical about a trans woman, A Fantastic Woman (2017) — which starred a trans woman, and garnered Lelio a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year. I am literally realizing only as I write this that Sebastián Lelio is a director who commands attention, someone whose films I should see just knowing he is the one making them.
It’s as though Lelio went on to make far better movies as practice before returning to Gloria to make it again, only this time he did a much better job. It would seem that not all critics agree with me — the crtitical consensus remains slightly higher for Gloria than for Gloria Bell (83 versus 80 on MetaCritic), and honestly, even now I find the score oddly high. Why do critics regard these as such bastions of excellent filmmaking?
When it comes to Gloria Bell, I would say it’s an example of very good filmmaking — a great showcase for Julianne Moore at the age of 58, to be sure, but realistically, how many people will mark this as one of her “great performances” in years to come? This is a very good movie that works very well in the context of its time, and that’s basically where it will stay.
As with Gloria before it, Gloria Bell begins with a series of scenes depicting a fairly mundane life of a woman divorced twelve years on, with two grown children with problems of their own who can’t be much bothered to notice her relatively lonely existence.
One thing that sticks out pretty early on, however, is Gloria’s agency as a character. She spends a lot of time going to clubs to go dancing (although, again, I wonder where these clubs packed with middle-aged dancers actually exist), which she loves to do and has zero self-consciousness about it. She repeatedly introduces herself to men, often making the first move. This is a woman not interested in wasting her time.
Soon enough, she catches the eye of a man, Arnold (John Turturro), and they embark on a relationship that basically establishes this film as a romance for the older set. Critics may love this movie, but it’s difficult to see it as a popular choice as a first date movie for young lovers. The trailer to Gloria Bell was edited to make it seem like a funnier movie than it really is; in reality, it has a subtle through line of melancholy to it. I won’t spoil anything, particularly a pretty satisfying move that Gloria makes in the end, but suffice it to say, Arnold does not turn out to be the greatest guy. I spent a lot of time rooting for her to just be rid of him once and for all.
I must mention, beyond all that, how great the cinematography is in this movie — everyone and everything is shot noticeably well, particularly Julianne Moore as the title character, who has never looked better. The movie itself acknowledges this, in a way, when a woman at the bar at the dance club asks her if she’s had work done, because she looks so great — and Gloria says she has not, and thanks the woman for being so complimentary.
Everyone looks great in this movie, though, which includes an impressive list of stars in supporting roles: Brad Garrett as Gloria’s ex-husband and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his current wife; Michael Cera as her son and Holland Taylor as her mother; Rita Wilson as one of her friends, and even Sean Astin in a stint as an evening fling so brief he barely has a couple of lines. One can only assume a lot of these actors were eager to work with the director of Disobedience and A Fantastic Woman; I can’t help but wonder how familiar any of them were with the original Gloria.
I’ll certainly give Sebastián Lelio this much: he’s come a long way in the past half decade, as he’s come back and remade a movie I didn’t really like into one that I rather did. The performances are great all around, and if nothing else, longtime fans of Julianne Moore should very much enjoy it as a mature, thoughtful romance that avoids cliché at every turn.