Film

The Rich Humanism of Sebastián Lelio's 'Gloria Bell'

Julianne Moore as Gloria in Gloria Bell (2018) (IMDB)

For those curious about what awaits them on the other side of youth, writer-director Sebastián Lelio's indie drama Gloria Bell offers an unflinching glimpse at some unforgiving terrain.

Gloria Bell
Sebastián Lelio

A24

08 Mar 19 (limited US) 07 Jun 19 (UK)

Other

For fans of indie cinema, Gloria Bell might look familiar. That's because writer-director Sebastián Lelio's latest film is an almost scene-for-scene English language re-make of his own 2013 Chilean drama, Gloria. This time around, Julianne Moore gives a triumphant performance as the achingly vulnerable Gloria; an unapologetic disco diva who bravely invites new love into her life regardless of the consequences. Observant, delicate, and painfully human, Gloria Bell tears apart the constrictive social roles crippling its heroine and finds a vibrant survivor yearning to be heard.

Early in Gloria Bell, one character muses that our cells are constantly dying and being replaced, yet we remain essentially the same person throughout our entire life. If we follow this biological metaphor deep into the subconscious of Lelio's treatise on middle-age love we discover these cells are akin to the various roles we play in our life. Gloria Bell (Moore) has been a daughter, a wife, a mother, an ex-wife, a co-worker, and a lover. The DNA coiling between these social constructs reads like a template for the traditional female nurturer. Gloria exists to make the people in her life – primarily men – feel better about their lives. Her happiness and self-worth are merely a byproduct of her success as a nurturer.

Gloria's only personal indulgence is dancing. After working all day in her cubicle as an insurance claims agent, she makes a pilgrimage to the nightclub; nursing her drink at the bar until the right song finally overcomes her inhibitions (perhaps it's her personal anthem, the vaguely empowering pop classic "Gloria" by Laura Branigan). She finds a harmless middle-aged man on the dance floor and shares a few moments of awkward physical connection. When she makes sustained eye contact with another lonely soul named Arnold (John Turturro), we aren't sure if her attraction is rooted in physical lust or her compulsion to ease his obvious sadness.

(IMDB)

For Gloria and Arnold, making love isn't nearly as intimate as the quiet moments that follow. A physically and emotionally naked Gloria is free to unpack the decades of frustration trapped in her knotted shoulders. Predictably, much of her and Arnold's personal turmoil revolves around their adult children. Gloria's daughter (Caren Pistorius) is in love with a big-wave surfer, while her son (Michael Cera) is taking care of their newborn baby while his wife is away "finding herself" in the desert. Arnold's deadbeat daughters laze about all day with their troubled mother, who concocts new and exciting ways to make him regret his decision to leave home a year prior. When Arnold and Gloria abscond to Las Vegas for a romantic weekend, Arnold's ex-wife conveniently walks through a glass door and cuts her legs to ribbons.

The prospect of personal liberation quickly becomes yet another trap for Gloria, whose relationship with Arnold metastasizes into obligation, guilt, and regret. Lelio (fresh from his 2017 Academy Award winning triumph, A Fantastic Woman) depicts their doomed relationship with an unwavering attention to detail and a cautious rhythm befitting such a mature entanglement. This is seasoned, observant storytelling that understands torrid and reckless escapades are the luxury of youthful romance.

Every tiny decision Gloria makes, such as obsessing over whether to answer Arnold's increasingly desperate phone calls, is laden with prospective disaster. Is she being cruel to not answer Arnold's calls? Will she be leading him on if she does answer? Is she his lover or his mistress? These aren't simply new questions for Gloria; this is a new role for her, with confusing rules and hidden traps. She may emerge to the other side stronger and more empowered, but this fledgling independence conflicts mightily with her accommodating instincts.

Julianne Moore as Gloria and John Turturro as Arnold (IMDB)

Moore is an inspired choice to assume Paulina García's role from Gloria. She has an almost terrifying emotional range, and has never feared coming completely unhinged when the part requires it. Indeed, if Moore had a spirit animal, it would probably be Nicolas Cage. In Gloria Bell, however, she remains firmly buried within herself, content to swallow the rage and hysteria that punctuate her career-defining performances in Todd Haynes' Safe (1995) and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999). It's the measured uncertainty you expect from a character caught somewhere between where she's been and where she's going. Moore commands every scene, despite the lack of flashy emotional epiphanies. Simply put, she is exquisite.

Sadly, Gloria Bell indulges a few too many indie tropes to garner an unqualified recommendation. As mentioned, there's an obligatory trip to Vegas that ends with predictably chaotic results. There are some unwelcome broad gags, such as Gloria's experimentation with marijuana and a wacky co-worker who feels woefully out of place. Even some of the drama feels forced, as when Gloria takes Arnold to a family dinner party to meet her ex-husband (Brad Garrett). Most egregious, there's a pesky neighborhood cat that keeps finding its way into Gloria's apartment. Perhaps these are just flourishes meant to broaden the film's accessibility, but they seem disingenuous compared to the otherwise naturalistic tone.

What Gloria Bell captures splendidly, however, is one woman's struggle to break from society's script and author a new chapter in her own life. It seems the older we get, the more constrictive the plot lines become. For those curious about what awaits them on the other side of youth, Gloria Bell offers a sympathetic, unflinching glimpse at some very unforgiving terrain.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.