In Disco-Fueled 'Gloria Bell,' Julianne Moore Loves The Nightlife
All remakes arrive powered by a tacit challenge: outperform the original by some agreed-upon metrics, be they financial, technical, critical or artistic. For director Sebastián Lelio, who wrote and directed the Chilean film Gloria just six years ago, the impetus for Gloria Bell, its English-language remake, is particularly specific: the desire to work with Julianne Moore.
The result, a near shot-for-shot remake, is a net improvement over the 2013 film – but only slightly, because the original also carefully swayed between joy and melancholy, and it, too, was anchored by a quietly stirring performance (by the great Paulina García).
We first meet the slightly world-weary Gloria (Moore) drinking at a Los Angeles bar before joining in on the older-singles' club dancefloor, bathed in magenta, violet, and green. Divorced for over a decade, she dances fully and freely to a disco hit from her youth, talking to and winking at the men around her. Gloria dances there often; she sings in the car, too, mouthing the words or hitting a light falsetto to ballads filled with heartbreak and hopes for reconciliation.
Gloria's a romantic — and she soon finds some romance of her own: She meets Arnold, played by a muted, owlish John Turturro, at the bar one night. He's only recently divorced, still seemingly shaken by his split. They enter into a romantic relationship, and as it progresses to dates and sex and poetry, she can't help but notice he remains connected — a little too connected — to his ex-wife and adult daughters. Their inevitable conflict feels not pre-ordained, but predestined, because Gloria Bell is fundamentally a character study, not a romantic drama.
"When the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing," Gloria says over a meal with Arnold and friends. It's the most revealing thing she says in the movie. Arnold is still reeling over the changes in his life, but Gloria has moved on. She wants to live out the rest of her years with the sort of energy that comes naturally in youth, but that often fades gradually, as love wears and children grow. When she dances, that passion glows in her, as it does when she sings (or at least mouths along) in the car. In these fleeting moments Lelio shows us Gloria at once most centrally herself – and at her most untethered.
The rest — the movie's central emotional arc, which is narrow but detailed — is acted across the contours of her face, in her eyes, behind large dark glasses that spread from the bridge of her nose like butterfly wings. Moore is one of our greatest actors, a fact made manifest in a scene between her and Turturro. Arnold reads her a poem — it's beautiful, but it's Gloria's reaction that stops us. She chuckles at its absurdity but begins to cry when she realizes its depth; I began to cry too. When Arnold abruptly takes a call from one his daughters and moves across the room to speak in hushed towns, she sobers up. Lelio's camera makes us her companion, so we feel a sharp pang of compassion.
At times, I wished I were watching the original 2013 film starring García instead. It's not that Moore lacks for anything, here, but she and García do, after all, portray the same character in two different movies. The remake is more comedic, while the original was more subdued. García's performance (award-winning, it should be said) was perfect — a bit dowdy but unquenchably youthful, her nakedness and sexuality surprising. She made Gloria feel familiar, sympathetic, universal.
Moore instead brings star power: The very nature of her celebrity imbues the role with a sort of narrow specificity that can only distract. Her Julianne-Moore-ishness fights against the remake's implicit assertion that Gloria's story could just as easily play out in Los Angeles, California as it did Santiago, Chile. Happily, Moore's celebrity status is grounded in real acting chops, which is why, despite the disconnect you feel watching those familiar features onscreen, her Gloria feels authentic in a relaxed, unforced, un-Hollywood way.
Because the two films are so similar, their few differences seem pronounced. The American version boasts bolder colors, as well as a sweeping score that mixes orchestration and blooming synth to produce a quality of sound like flowers growing or water rippling in a pond. (This effect becomes slightly grating as Lelio tends to overuse it in signposting key scenes.)
The American remake, of course, boasts an American cast, which is mostly a success, if only because we get to see Gloria's boyfriend (Turturro) fester, her son (Michael Cera) mumble, and her mother (Holland Taylor) whip her into shape.
They, and the other actors who round out the cast, manage to command the screen even as their characters hang at the film's periphery, turning austere moments in the original film into scenes that breathe. In one scene, Gloria's ex-husband (Brad Garrett) tipsily reminisces alongside Gloria as they look at old photographs with their children. It's a crucial sequence: Lelio's camera foregrounds Garrett and Moore, leaving a spurned Turturro — his eyes blurring with tears — to look on in the background, among the rest of the cast.
But it's Julianne Moore, more than any cast member, who's the reason to see Gloria Bell. Moore, and that fuzzy disco soundtrack, which keeps her dancing, and which will make you want to join in.
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