2019, R, 102 min. Directed by Sebastián Lelio. Starring Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius, Rita Wilson, Holland Taylor, Brad Garrett.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., March 22, 2019
Julianne Moore plays the title’s Gloria Bell, a woman of a certain age who’s still trying. And that word “trying” is important, because this takes work. No, not that kind of work, though we do get to enjoy Moore’s lovely, trilling laugh when a woman at a singles bar – another battle-weary someone sifting through widowers and divorcés for a decent date – discreetly asks Gloria if she’s had plastic surgery. The kind of work Gloria labors at, day in and day out, can be filed under emotional and/or mental labor: to stay connected to her adult children when they no longer seem to need her, to stay employed when other fiftysomething women at her company are being ushered to the door, and to stay open to the possibility of romance when the singles bar scene is just so damn exhausting.
It was exhausting in Chile, too, the site of director Sebastián Lelio’s first go at Gloria’s story. Here, he joins the ranks of Alfred Hitchcock, Leo McCarey, and Michael Haneke to take a second whack at the same material. Gloria Bell isn’t a shot-for-shot remake, but it’s close enough to just a little bit diminish the experience of new Gloria for old Gloria fans. (The original was well received upon its 2013 release; in between, Lelio won a Best Foreign Film Oscar for 2017’s A Fantastic Woman and directed his first English-language film, 2018’s Disobedience.) This is an unhurried movie made of small moments, the kind of observational picture – could-go-comedy, could-go-drama, depending on the way you tilt your head – that Paul Mazursky excelled at. Because there are no plot pyrotechnics, the shine rubs off of some of the scenes if you’ve seen them before in Spanish.
Still, Gloria Bell is its own thing. Lelio inflects the film with a believably Californian vibe, all washed-out easiness, and the faint feeling that so much easiness must take an awful lot of work. And Moore can so exquisitely convey two emotions at once, the actorly equivalent of patting a head and rubbing a stomach at the same time. As Gloria gets put through the wringer, Moore radiates hope and caution, joyful abandon and the heaviness of another heartache behind her. Again, you can see the work, how much effort goes into trying – and, in Gloria Bell’s ultimately optimistic framing, that the work is still worth it.