By Kim Hughes
Of all the elements writer/director Sebastián Lelio faithfully preserves from his 2013 Spanish-language hit Gloria and carries over to its daring English-language remake Gloria Bell, the most noteworthy —and arguably most vulnerable to Hollywood sanitizing — is the title character’s blaringly unapologetic kookiness. Also the film’s willingness to tell its story gradually.
But Lelio and star Julianne Moore drape Gloria Bell in the same cloak of awkward endearment (and outsize eyeglasses) that enveloped the original film. Squirming is part of the point and not just because Gloria Bell follows a 50-something, sexually active woman who smokes, drinks, dresses sexily, dances fiercely and prioritizes her own needs. Only Russell Crowe comedies are rarer on big screens.
For Gloria Bell, Lelio moves his protagonist from Santiago to Los Angeles but keeps the story more or less exactly intact. The namesake character, divorced and with grown children, longs to get back into the romantic swing. Her straight-laced day job offers few opportunities, so Gloria spends nights dancing solo at discos. One night she meets Arnold (John Turturro), a paintball king still bruised from an even more recent split.
Things begin promisingly enough but two events railroad Arnold and Gloria’s budding relationship: her tipsy over-sharing with her ex-husband at a birthday party for their son, which Arnold witnesses, and his slavish devotion to his needy adult daughters, which Gloria endures endlessly. Things swiftly misfire.
For a film where relatively little happens plot-wise, Gloria Bell is oddly beguiling thanks to its leads: Moore (reliably great) embracing every square-peg aspect of her character and Turturro, whose resting look — itchy, perplexed, possibly lost — is deployed with precision in a character meant to be wildly uncomfortable in his own skin.
Director Leilo won a best foreign language film Oscar for 2017’s A Fantastic Woman, a love story centred on a transgendered woman. Though less phantasmagoric than that film, Gloria Bell (and its predecessor) also explores someone living outside the lines of a conventional narrative not with lab-coated curiosity but with empathy, verve and humour. Talk about a ride.
Gloria Bell. Directed and written by Sebastián Lelio. Starring Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius, Brad Garrett, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Sean Astin and Holland Taylor. Opens March 15 in Toronto and Vancouver; March 22 in Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria, Halifax, Vancouver, and Winnipeg with expansion in Toronto and Vancouver; opens wide March 26.