Back in 2013, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio made a well received romance called Gloria, in which the title character, a middle aged divorcee played by Paulina García (Narcos), enters into a frustrating relationship with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a former military man who has recently gone through his own divorce. The film won some international attention for its look at a demographic usually ignored or desexualized in cinema, and on the strength of García’s production-justifying performance.
Now, Lelio has made more of a name for himself after helming 2017’s universally lauded A Fantastic Woman and 2018’s Disobedience. So he’s decided to revisit Gloria, now called Gloria Bell, this time with Julianne Moore in the lead role. Even though the film is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of Gloria, it still occupies an underserved space in film. It treats its subjects – older adults trying to navigate the world of singlehood – with respect rather than forcing the film to be a formulaic romcom.
Even working in the shadow of García’s lauded take on the character, Moore makes the role her own. Her Gloria Bell spends her nights dancing at a retro disco populated by older singles. There’s a neighborhood cat who sneaks into her apartment from time to time that she determinedly throws out over and over again. It’s never explicitly stated, but one gets the impression that she fears her identity being reduced to that of “middle aged cat lady.”
After she hooks up with the sad-sack romantic interest, Arnold, reprised here by a perfectly cast John Turturro, we see Gloria brighten a little, though she’s rightly concerned by the fact that Arnold can’t seem to stop putting his adult daughters and ex-wife ahead of any chance to have an adult relationship with Gloria. The film’s centerpiece is an extended scene at the birthday party of Gloria’s adult son (Michael Cera), who is going through relationship problems of his own. Gloria’s intimate friendship with her ex-husband (one of Brad Garrett’s best moments) unnerves Arnold, who can’t conceive of having a former relationship be based on anything but malice.
Arnold’s subsequent actions, excuses and explanations get tiresome quickly. Thankfully, Gloria Bell doesn’t force its characters into the hackneyed, irrational behavior that’s become stereotypical of this type of filmic romance. Gestures are made, but they’re not necessarily grand, and success isn’t necessarily assured. Gloria Bell may recycle a lot of Gloria’s DNA, but she’s her own person, and worth knowing.