James C. Clay // Film Critic
Chilean director Sebastian Lello has been making artistic triumphs the past few years, depicting women in a light that Hollywood time and time again overlooks. His masterful film A FANTASTIC WOMAN won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film at the 2018 Oscars ceremony, and for good reason.
His latest, GLORIA BELL, is an English-language remake of his film GLORIA, which made a buzz on the arthouse circuit six years ago. This iteration stars Julianne Moore as the titular Gloria Bell, a middle-class woman that is looking for something, anything to lead her on the path to rediscovering herself as she becomes a certain age. The film is framed as a romantic comedy that falls under the reductive “Got Her Groove Back” template, but there is much more on Lello and Moore’s mind. It’s just a shame not too many of the intentions connect.
In the film, we follow Gloria Bell through a beautifully lit Los Angeles, feeling like a dreamscape of Gloria’s own design. The entire film is shot in her own bubble, as we are just barely kept at a distance from her seeing her most intimate moments, from plucking a few hairs off her face and having conversations with her son, Peter (Michael Cera). It’s an odd choice to shoot the film this way as the cinematography from Natasha Braier (THE NEON DEMON) is beautiful, albeit a bit judgmental; however, the free-spirited Gloria probably doesn’t care what any of us think, and why should she?
Gloria goes out to a local disco from time to time, and she eventually meets a man named Arnold (John Turturro), who has been divorced for a little over a year. They spark a romance over dinner and trips out to Arnold’s paintball park – something is amiss, yet this doesn’t phase Gloria too much at first.
The problems with GLORIA BELL doen’t involve the subject matter, or the performances, but in the editing process. The entire film feels like fragments of her life as we are constantly entering scenes too late and leaving them too early, and this is said to be a nice editing trick by those in the business. Here, it causes the narrative to be fractured. Aside from a wonderful dinner party scene where Gloria takes Arnold to meet her ex-husband Dustin (Brad Garrett, who completely steals the show), his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and their two kids, the narrative feels alienated from the audience. It feels like Lello and screenwriter Alice Johnson Boher wanted to keep us at a distance from the characters – maybe that’s by design.
Despite all the goods in its corner, GLORIA BELL feels a bit hollow. There’s isn’t much for Lello to say about the character and what she is going through in life. It’s easy to see the inherent stress that comes in her life as she grows in age and rediscovers her station in life. Julianne Moore, who is a master of her craft, hits a creative sweet spot as she jostles through many of Gloria’s emotions and feelings. While this is a fascinating project on paper, there’s not much to sink your teeth into thematically other than some killer disco tracks, which, of course, includes Laura Branigan’s anthem “Gloria.” Gloria Bell lives her life in all caps, and bless her for that. The material put into play needed to have more connective tissue.
GLORIA BELL is now playing in limited release.