As far as excuses for remaking your own film go, ‘Julianne Moore asked me to’ is a pretty good one. The prolific Chilean director Sebastian Lelio has moved his 2013 breakout Gloria from Santiago to Los Angeles with Gloria Bell, but otherwise sticks incredibly close to his original story and lets Moore shine in the title role without many plot moves or visual flourishes. It’s a great role for Moore, fully realised, complicated, and sexy, but Gloria Bell is perhaps too content to just let its leading lady shine, forgetting to do much else to hold your attention. As a slice of everyday life, it’s certainly well-observed, but everyday life can be pretty boring.
Gloria Bell spends her nights at a local singles bar, grooving along to classic disco and occasionally bringing a man home. Her life outside of the bar is rather listless – her job is cruising along comfortably and though there are major dramas going on in the life of her adult kids (played by Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius), they’re not that interested in getting her involved. Excitement arrives in the form of Arnold (John Turturro), an ex-marine and fellow divorcee who sparks genuine romance in Gloria’s life, something she has been sorely lacking.
Lelio and Alice Johnson Boher’s script is in no rush to get anywhere, content with just breezily running through Gloria’s daily routines of work, singing in her car, and dealing with her chaotic neighbours. Through Gloria’s dates with Arnold, Lelio does conjure a couple of fun set-pieces like a visit to an adventure park and a dramatic round of paintball, but everything is very low key, and even an emotional birthday party eventually just calmly peters out. Gloria Bell lacks the visual punch of A Fantastic Woman and the emotional complexity and intensity of Disobedience, Lelio’s previous two (superior) films, and I did find myself checking the time during quite a few scenes.
What saves it is Moore’s performance. It’s far from her showiest role, but she imbues Gloria with depth of feeling and an infectious laugh which keeps things watchable. You believe that Gloria’s life has a past and a future outside of the film, testament to both rich character work in the writing and Moore’s genuinely fantastic acting. Yet all this skill can’t help but feel a bit wasted in a film that never really demands your attention, going through the motions of a life without making it all that cinematic.