Director: Sebastian Lelio
Cast: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor, Sean Astin, Caren Pistorius
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Gloria Bell isn’t the first time that an acclaimed foreign film has been remade for the English-speaking market and it won’t be the last. However, the standard cries of creative bankruptcy don’t apply here, not least because, at executive producer-slash star Julianne Moore’s insistence, it’s been made by Sebastian Lelio, the Chilean writer-director of the original film, 2013’s Gloria. As such, despite being an almost shot-for-shot remake, the combination of Moore’s performance and the change of location make it a creatively rewarding endeavour.
Set in present-day Los Angeles, the film centres on 50-something Gloria Bell (Moore), who’s been divorced for a decade and is looking for love. If she’s not working at her insurance job or helping out her grown-up children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius), she’s most likely to be found dancing to disco numbers at a neighbourhood singles nightclub. When she meets recently divorced military-man-turned-paintball-manager Arnold (John Turturro), the pair hit it off and tentatively begin a relationship, but Gloria becomes increasingly concerned when he keeps dropping everything to cater to the whims of his adult daughters.
Moore is wonderful as Gloria, a strong-willed, sensible and compassionate woman whose surface capability masks a loneliness and a yearning for companionship. As with Garcia before her, she’s in every frame and her warm-hearted performance lets you feel her every emotion, whether it’s joy, frustration, anger or sadness.
Turturro is equally good as Arnold, sparking strong chemistry with Moore and finding moments of sympathy for the character even when his behaviour is maddening. His anguished defence of why he left a family party without telling anyone (“I searched for your eyes all evening, it was like I didn’t exist!”) is particularly moving.
There’s strong support from Cera and Pistorius (both of whom have their parts slightly expanded from the original), while Brad Garrett is good value as Gloria’s on-friendly-terms ex-husband and there’s a welcome appearance from Holland Taylor as Gloria’s mother.
With very little in the way of an actual plot, the film is essentially a character study, although it also serves as a bittersweet story about middle-aged, second-time-around romance. To that end, there are a number of affecting and sharply observed scenes, as well as several laugh-out-loud moments, such as Gloria enthusiastically ripping off Arnold’s velcro back support girdle before sex, or cheekily dropping his phone in his soup after one interrupting phonecall too many.
The remake might have lost some of the 2013 film’s political significance by switching from Santiago to Los Angeles, but Lelio compensates with telling details about the city, such as the constant, disturbing yelling from Gloria’s upstairs neighbour or the hideous skinless cat that keeps mysteriously entering her apartment. It’s a city where there’s always just a hint of threat, and even the normally cosy and familiar is somehow a little different.
The film also benefits from Lelio’s evident soundtracking skills, once again making terrific use of the title track by Laura Branigan, as well as some inspired choices for the scenes where Gloria flatly sings along to the radio in her car – the perfect character note for a note-perfect performance.