If anything about “Gloria Bell” seems familiar to you, it probably means that you’re a connoisseur of South American cinema, specifically of Chile, and that you likely saw the 2013 film “Gloria” at your local art house.
In an unusual move, that well received film, written and directed by Chilean auteur Sebastian Lelio, has been rewritten and re-directed by him, now in English, with its setting relocated from Santiago to Los Angeles, and its lead roles now handled by Julianne Moore - the title character - and John Turturro.
It’s a busy movie, with Gloria Bell, a divorced insurance adjuster and mother of two adult children trying her best to stay occupied, even if it means settling into a life of repetition. She keeps going to the same disco club, hoping to find a dance partner, but usually drinking alone. She regularly calls her kids, but they’re too busy to meet up with her. She chats with a sassy friend at work, but the discussion always ends up being about her friend’s dissatisfaction with the job.
But don’t feel bad for Gloria. Yes, there’s a longing for meaningful companionship, but there are other friends to visit - couples, of course. There’s a doctor who tells her she’ll need eyedrops for the rest of her life. There’s a stray cat that keeps breaking into and hanging out at her apartment. Her mom (Holland Taylor) is nearby by so there are lunch dates. There’s her car radio, with which she sings along to every pop song it plays. She seems to be fine with the mundane.
Besides, there are ways to get together with her kids. She can go visit her son Peter (Michael Cera), who’s always home with his new baby, explaining that his wife is “finding herself in the desert” or is just away without sufficient explanation. She can take one of the yoga classes that her daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius) teaches, but Anne can’t stay around afterward because she must run off to see her Swedish boyfriend who is - wait for it - a professional surfer.
But then, one night at the club, she makes eye contact with Arnold (John Turturro), a new face on the scene, who has a pretty good opening line. They talk, they drink, they dance, they let each other know they’re divorced, and she goes home with him.
So, it’s a busy movie. But nothing of much significance happens. It consists of little slices of Gloria’s life. She’s affable, the kind of person you want nice things to happen to. Alas, Arnold isn’t exactly a nice thing. No, he’s not an abuser or a thief, nothing like that. He’s a victim, one of his own making, who can’t get away from the suffocating family he left ... or was left by: A wife we learn nothing about, and two adult daughters who can’t handle even the simplest of problems, who constantly call him, demanding his help, often when he’s with Gloria. And he always goes. He also leaves Gloria, unannounced, if he’s uncomfortable. And even though they appear to be right for each other, it’s never long before he’s uncomfortable. Which is when he ups and vanishes, one time after saying, in a restaurant, “I’ll be right back.”
What’s poor Gloria to do? She’s strong. Arnold is pathetic. Gloria gains our sympathy, yet she keeps being used as if she were a doormat. So, is she pathetic, too? The lingering question is how are we supposed to feel about her?
Or maybe the trick is just to watch her, to eavesdrop on her life. There’s nothing very funny or very dramatic going on. The film is not plot-driven. But there are great performances from everyone, and if the film is about anything, it’s about acting, about strong actors portraying appealing - and not-so-appealing - characters. Two things are certain about Gloria. We like her and she’s going to be OK.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written and directed by Sebastian Lelio
With Julianne Moore and John Turturro