50-something woman character study
Julianne Moore has made a career out of subtle performances that make her highly relatable. From playing a woman fighting chemical allergies – and suburban normality – in Safe, to her performance as a homemaker who supports her alcoholic husband and their family by winning contests in The Prize-Winner of Defiance, Ohio,to her Oscar-winning turn as a linguistic professor with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease, Moore usually chooses nuance over melodrama.
It’s no surprise, then, that Moore takes a subtler approach to dealing with middle age in Gloria Bell, an English-language remake of the 2013 Chilean film Gloria. Unlike many foreign remakes, Sebastian Lelio (Disobedience, A Fantastic Woman) directed both Gloria and Gloria Bell. With Lelio at the helm, he can make sure that his story doesn’t morph into a Hollywood formula, which it never does.
Moore plays Gloria, a 50-something divorcee with two grown children and a steady, unexciting job as an insurance agent. She sings at the top of her lungs along with the hits of the 1970s and 1980s on her way to work, attends laughing classes, and most of all, loves to dance. Her life is fine but unremarkable. Her daughter has fallen in love with a Swedish professional surfer and plans to move to Sweden, and her son is a single parent while his wife is away indefinitely. She tries to fit into their lives but her day as identifying primarily as their mother has passed. She lives in a modest apartment with an angry, noisy neighbor, and a Sphynx cat that keeps sneaking into her apartment.
Gloria frequents a nightclub full of people her age, but fails to make a connection until one night a man named Arthur (John Turturro) keeps looking at her. They spend the night together and eventually start dating. Arthur is also pretty unremarkable, but a bit mysterious. He runs a paintball park, likes South American poetry, and is divorced – or is he? He has two grown daughters that still live with his wife, and he never really explains his home life to Gloria.
As Gloria starts to fall for Arthur, she feels validated by his attention, but never can fully figure out who he is and the life he leads. She starts to assume more power and control in the relationship, but will Arthur play along? And ultimately, does she need romantic love to validate her life?
The movie is more of a slow burn, but that fits Gloria’s character. This isn’t an over-the-top portrait of a midlife crisis like American Beauty. Instead, it’s a midlife crossroads for Gloria. Past the point of being known primarily as a wife, mother, and co-worker, she reaches a point where she be herself, however that turns out to be.
Gloria is in control of her life, but maybe secretly wishes she was someone more adventurous. Arthur offers her that risk-taking but the audience is left feeling that she can do better without him.
Given her penchant for nuance, Moore is the perfect choice to play Gloria. She plays Gloria as wanting to please others but also as somewhat of a free spirit who is happy to dance but is just waiting for the right moment to let loose. Moore won’t win an Oscar for this performance, but it certainly adds to her strong body of work.
Strong characters in the movie, however, begin and end with Gloria. She is someone the audience can rally behind but no one else in the movie is very memorable. Arthur, while important to Gloria’s growth, never really grows on screen. We never know his motivation is in life. Gloria’s character could have succeeded even more with a stronger lead partner.
Moore won’t win an Oscar for this performance, but it certainly adds to her strong body of work.
Gloria Bell isn’t groundbreaking but it is a good character study of a woman in her 50s in modern-day America. Society believes she is past her prime, but she has other ideas. She feels much more real than Kevin Spacey’s character freaking out in American Beauty. It’s more like Gloria Bell is more American Subtlety.
3 out of 4 stars. Rated R for nudity, sexual situations and the overuse of a hairless cat. Mom and Dad: no.