Chilean writer-director Sebastián Lelio’s US remake of his 2013 Chilian romantic dramedy “Gloria” is surprisingly a radiant joy that succeeds and actually exceeds the original. Little often do Hollywood remakes of foreign films ever work, take for instance the recent Hollywood remake of “Miss Bala” that misfires on many levels, however “Gloria Bell” is uproariously funny and equally bittersweet. Just as in the original, “Gloria Bell” focuses on the title character played by Julianne Moore who is a lonely divorced, middle-aged woman who works as a manager at a insurance agency who also longs to hear more from her distant and grown children. She endures sleep deprivation a obnoxiously loud upstairs neighbor and a hairless cat keeps getting into her small Los Angeles apartment.
Gloria spends the little leisure she gets dancing and drinking to disco songs at a local nightclub. One night she encounters Arnold (John Turturro), and they are instantly drawn into each other and form a relationship with each other. Arnold is also a divorcee and is very introverted. He holds quirky and shy charms, however he holds some deep insecurities that bring out jealousy that jeopardize the potential Gloria and Arnold hold together.
Lelio dives deep into the relationship of these two wounded desperate romantics. Gloria has been divorced for over 10 years, and Arnold is thinner due to enduring a gastric bypass operation. Arnold also gets a lot of demands from his ex-wife and two grown daughters who only seem to contact Arnold when they want something. One of the films finest scenes involves Gloria inviting Arnold to a birthday of her son, where Gloria’s ex-husband who is happily remarried talks fondly of Gloria and great memories of they held of their marriage together. Arnold feels completely detached and jealousy, in which he a masterfully staged and greatly performed moment where Arnold confronts Gloria about being felt removed and non-existent.
Yet, this is Julianne Moore’s show here and you can not resist her charm and joy in this role as she sings 1980’s songs in her car, dances in clubs, who is an independent woman just longing for purpose. Gloria’s shut-in, introverted moments of loneliness become extroverted and blissful on the dance floor where she can liberate herself from the suffocating isolation she endures. The films cinematography, especially on the dance floor of purples and blues are luminous and exquisitely shot by Natasha Braier. Moore is so transfixed in her performance that she truly elevates a fragmented and wounded soul, and like the beautiful 2017 Chile transgender drama “A Fantastic Woman”, Lelio refuses to resort to cheap sentiment or self-pity manipulation. Lelio has a way of building strong characterizations that are always earned with complexity over the cloy.
SeWhich begs the question which of the two films are stronger the original 2013 version “Gloria”, or the United States remake of “Gloria Bell”. The LA setting certainly works, Lelio shows Los Angeles as a stripped down city missing the palm trees and luxury apartments. Gloria’s apartment feels small and confined, and the office she works at feels second rate. There is a great moment where Arnold and Gloria travel out to to Las Vegas together where they stay at a first-rate hotel. Even on the trip Arnold can’t escape the nagging demands from his two daughters and ex-wife that suck all the joy out from him. It leaves Gloria down a journey of heartbreak and disappointment as Lelio captures her desolate desperation on a weekend rendezvous where Gloria feels helpless and hopeless after Arnold departs back home to be there for his daughters.
Even though this film is similar in many ways, plot by plot, moment by moment of the original, Lelio is able to elevate the material thanks mainly to stronger aesthetics, more polished craftsmanship, and of course a stronger performance by Julianne Moore who is just a little more delightful than “Gloria’s” lead of Pauline Garcia, and like the original “Gloria Bell” is a rich and sophisticated character study that plays great tribute to middle age rediscovery. Overall Lelio improves the visuals, by using more bright purples and blues to capture Gloria’s self-reliance and independence from her internal suffering. Place “Gloria Bell” as the first notable American film of 2019.