For Chilean director Sebastian Lelio, life is like a waltz. We switch from dance partner to dance partner striving for connection. And hell, if we don’t find one, we might as well go down dancing.
This is the swaying notion behind Lelio’s “Gloria Bell”–a remake of his exceptional 2013 foreign language film “Gloria.” Exceptionally, his anti-“it takes two to tango” message still seems radical and radiant. How? Look no further than Julianne Moore. She has a smile that could put Julia Roberts out of business, and an impersonated honesty that could fool the man upstairs. (It’s hard to remember she’s an actress when she delivers performances this convincing).
She plays the Gloria of the title. Gloria is all out of love (as the song goes), an aging beacon tirelessly searching for a signal. She finds one, or so she thinks, amidst the pack of middle-aged skeezeball’s at the club she often attends. “Are you always this happy?” he asks. “Someday’s I am, someday’s I’m not” she hesitantly responds, trying not to give away the fact that her life is in shambles. Quick backstory: She’s an insurance agent in Los Angeles, a product of a crushing divorce, and her only escape is dancing and singing to on-the-nose songs like “A Little More Love.” He’s also a product of divorce, and an affluent ex-Marine now working as a paintball instructor.
Meanwhile, the two get down on the dance floor with hopes to reenter love’s battlefield anew. He enters her, and her life–he meets the kids played by Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius — and all seems great. The two go on lavish trips as we explore what makes these two happy. Moore’s floral dress and school-teacher glasses glow like her smile when Arnold (John Turtorro, brilliant) reads her poetry. Still, Lelio plays with his lovers freely, and then achingly. By seamlessly blending realism with touches of magical realism, the film effectively finds the despair in middle age, but also the subtle moments of joy that seem magical in the midst of withering despair.
For those of you who caught his Oscar-winning “A Fantastic Woman” a couple years back, this feeling won’t be anything new. The same can be said for our connection to the films leading woman–Julianne Moore is as fantastic as any woman, and by the time the credits rolled, all I wanted to do was give her a hug. It’s one thing to grow old with a fractured family, it’s another thing to grow old with a fractured heart. (Ironically, for a film about the process of aging, Lelio and cohorts picked out the Rob Lowe of actresses). Not that it matters, really. Since this intentionally intimate and unabashedly awkward romantic comedy (?) can speak to those of all ages. Which makes it a shame that I couldn’t like it more.
If the film works best as a commentary on the cycles of life, it’s the constant need to recycle that prohibits this from becoming transporting cinema. A shot for shot remake of the original, with a rehashing of the themes of Claire Denis, there isn’t anything new here. We have seen woman struggle to find love on screen more than we have in real life–and that’s saying something. So what does this bring to the table? Besides Julianne Moore playing the most likable character to grace the screen in years. Which is great and all, but it will leave you wanting more. By the end the voices in your head won’t be calling Gloria. But they might be calling Moore. Or for more? Probably both.