The film begins with bopping. There really is no other word to describe Julianne Moore’s Seventies-ish shoulder shimmy here playing the title role of Gloria Bell, dancing on her own like no one’s watching at a Los Angeles singles club. In another film this would be a laugh-at-her moment – cop a load of the desperate middle-aged woman looking for love on the dancefloor. But Moore doesn’t do clichés and she inhabits Gloria so naturally with such authenticity that at times Gloria Bell feels almost like a documentary.
It’s directed by Sebastián Lelio, giving us an almost scene-for-scene remake of his knock-out 2013 Chilean drama Gloria starring Paulina García. This new film is like a great cover version of a classic song, hitting slightly different notes, just as good as the original. I couldn’t pick a favourite between the two.
Gloria is a normal woman with your average day-to-day strifes. She works a boring office job for an insurance company, is divorced and has two adult kids around whom she’s a bit emotionally needy. Michael Cera plays her son, whose girlfriend has walked out on him and their baby son (“She’s gone to the desert to find herself,” he says, too exhausted to be angry). Her daughter, a yoga teacher (Alanna Ubach), is about to move Norway with her surfer boyfriend. All pretty average. But Gloria is the lead character in her own life, as we all are – and I was gripped by her dramas.
What is the nature of post-divorce dating? Are second-time-around relationships more shallow?
Gloria is out dancing when she is chatted up by Arnold (John Turturro), who has a kind, rumpled face, and is nothing like the slick, tanned silver-fox guys at the singles club. Arnold’s chat-up line makes Gloria laugh: “Are you always this happy?”
He served in the navy and now runs a gun range and paintballing business. He has been divorced for only a year and carries the baggage of two demanding grown-up daughters who still live at home and call him every five minutes. In the saddest line of the film he says: “I’m always worried about them and they never worry about me. It’s lonely.” Their constant telephoning is so irritating that Gloria drops his mobile into a bowl of soup during one dinner.
What is the nature of post-divorce dating? Are second-time-around relationships more shallow? Does it run less deep if you haven’t shared a life together, raised a family? Or perhaps they are more polite, less likely to turn toxic? Either way, Gloria has a revelation that Arnold might not be the guy for her at a family gathering for her son’s birthday – her ex and his wife are also there. First, awkwardly over dinner, Arnold’s pro-gun, climate change-denying opinions go down like a cockroach in the linguine. Then he walks out without saying anything, feeling left out and neglected by Gloria. Is he after all a bit of an emotional minnow?
Moore appears in almost every scene of the film and in her performance Gloria’s resilience shines. She smokes, drinks a bit too much. There’s even a walk of shame that again would be undignified in another film, but here Moore owns it, with not a pinch of vanity in her performance. As for the dancing, it was apparently choreographed by Mandy Moore, who worked on La La Land. Clearly it takes hard work to bop this goofily.