PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

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


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


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.


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.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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