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Middle-aged woman feels lonely in Lelio’s remake, ‘Gloria Bell’

Hilary Bronwyn Gayle
Hilary Bronwyn Gayle | A24

Whether love is found “where you least expect it” or “in a hopeless place” — as the proverb and Rihanna verse, respectively, teach — Gloria Bell is seeking it wherever she can find.

Gloria is the main character of Sebastián Lelio’s latest film, and she finds herself unneeded by family and hoping to connect with somebody. Gloria Bell documents the titular character’s relationship difficulties, examining what it means to be old — but not yet elderly — and unwanted.

The film is an English-language remake of Lelio’s 2013 picture Gloria, a Chilean film. Before Lelio, Alfred Hitchcock remade his own film, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Cecil B. DeMille had his own second take on The Ten Commandments, but Lelio’s remake doesn’t do enough to feel necessary as a remake or even as its own film.

Julianne Moore stars as Gloria, a woman in her 50s who likes to dance at clubs and sing along to her car radio. Her children don’t need her, she’s divorced and she’s just looking for attention. Lelio depicts her distance from others in clear, simple visuals, and then continues to do so over and again, beating viewers over the head with the information that Gloria is, in fact, alone and middle-aged.

She’s been divorced for 12 years and her ex-husband, Dustin, has since remarried. Gloria’s family has amicable relations with her, but she’s always the one reaching out, trying to find connection with others.

The film turns on her discovery of Arnold, somebody who wants to be with her, and the relationship they form together.

Right off the bat, there’s an odd choice in the film with the music by Matthew Herbert, who scored Lelio’s previous two films, Disobedience and A Fantastic Woman, the latter in collaboration with Nani Garciá.

In Gloria Bell, Herbert’s music creates an ethereal, fantastical environment, which makes sense in the scenes where Gloria dances in the club, sharp lights of blue and purple bathing her surroundings.

However, outside club doors, where the world is emphasized repeatedly to be a dull, disappointing place, the score feels out-of-sync with the rest of the movie.

Gloria Bell is a fairly boring film, made up as it is of disappointment in love and life, and not doing so in a particularly interesting way. The original Gloria was nominated for an AARP Movies for Grownups award and Gloria Bell is the type of film that belongs at such an award ceremony, for middle-aged adults to commiserate about how hard life gets or how their kids never call them.

In A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience, Lelio presented female outcasts and he does the same in his latest work but without the same bite as previously. His last two films were predicated on social issues, with the acceptance of a transgender woman in one and of two Orthodox Jewish women in love in the other. Gloria Bell doesn’t fight for anybody, nor does it make a compelling case to care for its protagonist’s journey to self-acceptance.

Natasha Braier’s cinematography, like the movie, is at its most enjoyable in the moments that transcend the dull reality. In the clubs Gloria frequents, when the music swells and the lights intensely cover dancers looking for one anoother, everything falls a bit more into place.

In one sequence, containing a trip to Las Vegas, Braier shoots the Caesars Palace hotel to look warm and amber-colored, washing away any sense of gaudiness the setting tends to have.

There is little magic to be found, and the prevailing feeling in Gloria Bell is disappointment. Moore offers a meaningful performance, but she’s in a film that’s so ordinary and uninteresting, her presence doesn’t elevate the story to anything meaningful. A journey of self-acceptance should be one where the audience can appreciate the self being accepted.

Gloria Bell fails to encourage a reason to care, to invoke any pathos. Even its moments of satisfaction are unable to take hold, to create a sense of catharsis.

Instead of seeing Gloria Bell, those seeking a deep, middle-aged reckoning with the self would be better served with Before Midnight, while those invested in the stories of parents and uncaring
children would do well by visiting the classic Tokyo Story, often voted one of the greatest films of all time. Gloria Bell is far from any such accolade.

Gloria Bell is out in limited release in New York at AMC Lincoln Square 13 and Angelika Film Center & Café, with an expansion planned to follow.

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