Director: Sebastián Lelio
Screenwriters: Alice Johnson Boher, from a story by Gonzalo Maza and Sebastián Lelio.
Runtime: 102 mins.
Australian release date: 25 April 2019
Previewed at: Roadshow Theatrette, Sydney, on 18 April 2019.
Sebastián Lelio directed the original, Spanish-language film of Gloria in his native Chile in 2013 and it was, indeed, glorious. In his latest rendering, this time in English, he has returned to the story he co-wrote with Gonzalo Maza (who also co-wrote the director’s much-acclaimed A Fantastic Woman) but he’s transposed the action to Los Angeles, creating an American version of a free-spirited woman, Gloria Bell, who loves dancing and is, perhaps, on the look-out for love. Does it work as well as the Chilean film? Well, yes and no. Alice Johnson Boher’s adapted script sticks very closely to the original but the real difference is in the change of cultures. Somehow, the US setting seems to make the story harder, a little bleaker and with a greater sense of desperation, than the Santiago milieu of the original.
Gloria (Julienne Moore) is a woman who is lonely. Divorced from Dustin (Brad Garrett) for 12 years, her adult children have their own problems and aren’t too interested in her or what’s going on in her life. Her pregnant daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius) is about to leave town to set up a new life in Sweden with her beau, a surfer who rides giant waves and “could die at any time”. Meanwhile, her son Peter (Michael Cera) is a stay-at-home dad looking after his baby and refusing to admit that his partner has probably left him, that she’s not simply gone to a retreat. Gloria has an unfulfilling office job in insurance and her one pleasure comes from her nocturnal outings to bars where she can drink martinis and dance to disco classics. On one of these excursions she locks eyes with Arnold (John Turturro), finds out he too is divorced with adult children, and romance is born. Everything goes well initially and Arnold is very attentive but after awhile he exhibits some strange behaviour, and soon Gloria is wondering if all is as it seems.
Julianne Moore is amazing as the 50-something woman fighting against the tide of loneliness that threatens to wash her away but refusing to give in to the current. She is in almost every shot and is not afraid to expose herself, certainly not physically at least. That said, there’s a hint of something unknowable about her, as though Gloria is keeping a little something back for herself. She’s reflective. When asked why he remade the film, Lelio declared that, “I met Julianne on a summer day in Paris in 2015. I had been told that she loved Gloria, but I hadn’t thought she would want to remake it. I was close to starting two new movies, and the film was somewhat farther from my thoughts. But the conversation with Julianne was magical. I was touched by her strong passion for Gloria’s character and story. At the end of our meeting, she said, “I would only do this if you direct it,” and I immediately replied, “And I would only direct it if you are in it.”” Turturro, too, is terrific as the somewhat creepy Arnold, a guy who wants what Gloria is offering but is afraid to let go of his past. If he feels a bit familiar it could be because Turturro’s played this uncertain Lothario character previously, in his self-directed 2013 movie Fading Gigolo.
Lelio has done a great job in establishing the somewhat tense mood of Gloria Bell, setting us up with Natasha Braier’s early shots of Gloria’s domestic routine and her daily commute to work, when she sings along to her disco favourites in the car. He draws us into her loneliness, making us almost feel like we’re complicit in some strange way. He’s very good with what might be described as ‘women’s films’, having made A Fantastic Woman (for which he won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar) and Disobedience, since he first directed Gloria. While he may be sympathetic to his male characters, too, he certainly doesn’t paint them in a good light; all the men here are weak individuals.
At the end of the day, however, comparison will inevitably be made to the film’s Chilean progenitor. Although Lelio has said, “Gloria Bell is like the cover of a melody that we created, played again in a new moment, in a new context, and by a new band. We tried to honour the discoveries and DNA of the original film; at the same time, we were searching for new tones, new vibrations, new sparkles”, his level of success is debatable. There’s something missing but maybe it’s just that South American sense of joie de vivre. At least this version still plays out to the rousing disco track Gloria, albeit by Laura Brannigan, not Umberto Tozzi.