There are few filmmakers who have experienced the degree of acclaim and recognition achieved by Chilean writer/director Sebastián Lelio in recent years. “Gloria”, his fourth full-length feature from 2013, brought Lelio both his widest audience and his most consistently favorable reviews.
He followed that up in 2017 with the incredible “A Fantastic Woman”, about a transgender woman dealing with the sudden death of her lover, which earned Lelio an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
In the same year, he released his first English-language film, “Disobedience”, starring Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, as two Orthodox Jewish women whose past sexual relationship is rekindled after many years.
In what is undoubtedly a prolific period for Lelio, his new movie “Gloria Bell” (A24) is an Americanized remake of “Gloria”, set in Los Angeles, instead of Santiago. In many ways, “Gloria Bell” remains faithful to its origin, but it also doesn’t hesitate to make a few changes in order to freshen it up a bit.
Gloria (a fabulous Julianne Moore) is a divorced mother of two grown children who works for an insurance company. Musical son Peter (Michael Cera) tries to hold it together, raising his very young son, while his wife Rachel is “finding herself in the desert” and has given no indication of her intention to return. Free-spirited daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius) is a yoga instructor in a relationship with Theo (Jesse Erwin), a Swedish big wave surfer.
Gloria does things to better herself, including attending Anne’s yoga class and going for laugh therapy. But her real passion is dancing. She is a regular at a dance club frequented by middle-aged divorcees and widows, who dance the night away to vintage disco tunes of the seventies and eighties. It’s obvious that Gloria is most comfortable in her own skin when she is on the dance-floor. She’s also a car-singer, crooning along with her favorite pop songs, also from the seventies and eighties.
It is at the dance club where she is heavily cruised and then asked to dance by Arnold (John Turturro), a very recent divorcee. In fact, Arnold has yet to establish boundaries with his ex-wife and his needy, layabout daughters, who think nothing of calling him at all hours with demands. Nevertheless, there is a mutual attraction between Gloria and Arnold and they begin dating. They go to the Vertigo Park amusement attraction owned by Arnold. Gloria and Arnold have dinner at the home of Gloria’s friends Vicky (Rita Wilson) and Charlie (Chris Mulkey). Gloria brings Arnold to Peter’s birthday party, where he meets Gloria’s ex Dustin (a hilarious and scene-stealing Brad Garrett) and his new wife Fran (Jeanne Tripplehorn). But the socially awkward Arnold is uncomfortable and sneaks away.
This begins the complicated (and perhaps too lengthy) process of Gloria and Arnold navigating, ending and restarting their romance. When an attempt at a relationship-saving trip to Las Vegas goes south in an unimaginable way, Gloria attains a renewed vigor and self-respect. The resulting paintball shooting scene (a highlight of the original) is well-earned statement of independence. When we see Gloria dancing alone to the Laura Branigan song “Gloria” at Vicky and Charlie’s daughter’s wedding, we know she is fully embracing who she is and is ready to begin again.