In the original 2014 Chilean-Spanish character-driven drama Gloria the title role was played by Pauline Garcia, a well-known playwright and theatre director from Chile. In the new American version, Gloria is played by Julianne Moore, and it’s a virtual scene-by-scene remake, which shouldn’t surprise when you discover that both films were written and directed by Sebastian Lelio.
As with the character’s Chilean counterpart, Gloria is a fifty-something divorcee. The children have grown and left home. Gloria lives alone in her Los Angeles apartment. She may be on the outside looking in, but that’s not how she wants things to be. She wants to get out there and join in. During the day, she works at an insurance firm. At night, she goes to nightclubs and lets herself go on the disco floor.
The setting may be present-day, but the soundtrack to Gloria’s life is set firmly in the hits of the past. At the clubs, she dances to Gloria Gaynor’s Never Can Say Goodbye or Earth, Wind & Fire’s September. In the car she sings aloud to Olivia Newton John’s A Little More Love or John Paul Young’s Love Is In The Air. Plus, other pop/rock hits of previous decades that punctuate moods are played, like Paul McCartney’s No More Lonely Nights and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s Alone Again (Naturally).
It’s while at one of the clubs that she meets Arnold (John Turturro) who is also divorced with grown children. Arnold is an ex-Marine who owns a paintball theme park. Like Gloria, the retired military guy is also looking for something outside of his divorced existence, but there are warning signs. “My head is still spinning,” he tells her on a call after just their first encounter.
Unlike Gloria, the issue with Arnold is he can’t quite let go of his past. His needy daughters may be grown but they can’t function without him. They continue to call, often at the wrong times, reminiscent of how Laura Linney’s Sarah would receive those interrupting calls from her mentally ill brother in Love Actually. At a dinner party when Gloria introduces Arnold to her own family – her son (Michael Cera), her daughter (Caren Pistorius), her ex (Brad Garrett) and his second wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn) – the man’s daughters continue to pester him, and he responds. He excuses himself from Gloria’s family and takes the calls, but he never returns to the table, leaving Gloria at the party alone again (naturally) and feeling rejected. She’ll later find him waiting for her by her car, but just as the empowered character did in the original 2014 film, Gloria tells Arnold to grow a pair and move on.
Though both Gloria and the new Gloria Bell are essentially the same films, they feel different, and it’s not simply the change of culture or language that makes it so. By the time the film concludes with the same fade out of Gloria losing herself on the dance floor to the pulsating disco beat of her namesake song by Laura Brannigan, there’s a sense of things unresolved that were never quite as noticeable in director Lelio’s previous work. Perhaps it’s because there’s an older, neon-lit softer touch to the remake that gives you time to ponder certain events in Gloria’s day to day life in a way that the more hand-held urgently shot original never allowed.
There’s no resolution to the development of the upstairs neighbor in Gloria’s apartment who sounds as though he may be having a breakdown, though it’s concerning enough for Gloria to make a call to the young man’s mother to let her know what’s going on. There’s a hairless cat that somehow keeps getting into Gloria’s apartment even though all windows and doors are locked. And it just feels odd to have Gloria repeatedly ignore Arnold’s begging calls only to cut to the next scene of her seated on a plane to spend time in Las Vegas with him. In a film that centers on the ordinary details of the slice-of-life vulnerability of a likable woman who is living her days hopefully ever after, perhaps it’s a law of human nature that after telling Arnold she wants nothing more to do with him, she willingly accepts his new promise that things will be different because it’s something she wants to believe while ignoring what is painfully obvious to the rest of us.
Julianne Moore as the linguistic professor diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in Still Alice may remain her best performance, but even though director Lelio’s new American version of his 2014 Spanish-language original doesn’t fully satisfy, Moore’s portrayal as Gloria Bell comes a close second.
MPAA Rating: R Length: 102 Minutes