TIFF 2018: Gloria Bell, by David Bax
There’s an unavoidable cheapening effect when a non-American director remakes their own film in English. To be churlish about it, these movies are made for the type of person who would prefer The Grudge to Ju-On. Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria was one of the better films released in 2013. Now, five years later, comes a carbon copy remake with an American cast and a slightly altered title, Gloria Bell. Is it good? Yes, in fact, it’s very, very good. It’s difficult, though, to resist urging you to check out the original first, if you haven’t.
Julianne Moore stars as Gloria Bell, a fiftysomething divorcee and office worker, who maintains a healthy but slightly distant relationship with her two grown children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius). She has a best friend (Rita Wilson) and a mom (Holland Taylor) and even gets along with her ex (Brad Garrett) and his new wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn). She spends the occasional free evening hanging out at the kinds of bars and clubs that attract other single people her age. That’s where she meets Arnold (John Turturro), also divorced. They begin to date, though that’s more of an inciting incident than a narrative throughline.
As with the original, Lelio excels at portraying the increasingly common 21st century reality of a seemingly comfortable middle class lifestyle that is nonetheless always on the brink of ruin. Gloria the insurance adjuster may have her own little office with a window and a Bluetooth phone but the reality that she may end up working for the rest of her life and living in her rented one bedroom apartment is never far from her mind.
Gloria Bell draws an equation between this desperation with a happy face in financial terms to the same situation in the arena of love. If “economic anxiety” leads to people voting against their own interests, might not romantic anxiety have a similar effect? It’s no big spoiler to reveal that Arnold doesn’t turn out to be a perfect mate but Lelio and Moore want to see how much she’ll forgive; how much compromising or rounding up she’ll do. That’s the meat of the story and, despite the stacked supporting cast, Moore assuredly holds the whole movie down by herself for most of the runtime.
If I have one lasting memory of 2013’s Gloria, it’s the image of Paulina García (in the title role) driving on Santiago freeways and singing to hits of the 70s and 80s. Those shots are recreated in Gloria Bell, this time in the Southland, a place where a car is often a second home and an extension of one’s identity. These scenes, peppered throughout the movie, remind us that Gloria is as much in control of her own life as she is able to be. We should all be so blessed.