Gloria Bell has been divorced for a decade, but it still feels as if she’s in transition — as if she didn’t see this coming.
She’s a regular at a Los Angeles disco populated by other fifty- and sixty-somethings who groove to 1970s sounds by the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire. But much of the time she dances alone, and it seems like only recently has she entertained the idea of actually dating any of the silver-haired hopefuls at the club.
When she calls one of her two grown children — always getting voicemail, because of course nobody under 40 ever actually talks on the telephone — she sometimes sounds as if she’s talking to teenagers. (“It’s your mother,” she says at the end of each of her messages, as if there could be any doubt.)
Her apartment and her office at the insurance agency are decorated as if she’s only recently moved in — or would be willing to move out in rapid fashion if necessary.
Gloria is smart and kind and beautiful and funny.
And just sort of … floating from day to day.
The breathtakingly talented Julianne Moore gives a luminous and resonant and stunningly good performance as the title character in the Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s remake of his 2013 film “Gloria.” There is not a single strand of this performance that’s anything short of brilliant.
In a film that rapidly changes tones from scene to scene (and sometimes within a scene) — alternately quirky, hilarious, romantic, bittersweet, melancholy and exhilarating — Moore creates yet another original and memorable character in her world-class canon of work. Even when Gloria is doing something as simple as singing along to an Olivia Newton-John oldie in her car, there’s something magnetic about the moment.
After another day of talking clients through insurance claims, Gloria often looks in on her son (Michael Cera), who has been left alone with a newborn baby after his wife went off into the desert to “find herself,” and her daughter (Caren Pistorius), a hippie-ish yoga instructor who has found love with a professional big-wave surfer from Sweden.
Gloria’s children love her, but they’re constantly rolling their eyes at her while quietly resisting her unsolicited attempts to become even more involved in their lives. They never come right out and say it — but it’s always as if they’re on the verge of urging her to get on with her own life.
When Gloria finally does allow herself to explore potential romance, her choice is a curious one, to say the least. John Turturro’s Arnold keeps on staring at Gloria across the dance floor, with the intense gaze of a hired assassin — but when Arnold finally asks Gloria to dance, which quickly leads to courtship, we learn he’s a socially awkward fella who wears a girdle (he has lost more than 100 pounds but is still self-conscious about his weight), owns a paintball amusement park, and is overly indulgent with his two adult daughters and his ex-wife, who call him at all hours seeking his help on countless fronts.
I found the up-and-down romance between Gloria and Arnold to be the least compelling element of the story (although we do get one fantastically entertaining payoff). We understand Gloria is in a place where perhaps she’s wiling to forgive this man his failings, but when the pattern repeats itself — and repeats itself — it becomes more infuriating than anything else.
The film shines in the set pieces, e.g., a birthday party for Gloria’s son at which Gloria sees her ex-husband (Brad Garrett, terrific) for the first time in four years and meets his wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn), or when Gloria visits her best friend (Rita Wilson, doing fine work) and finds herself quietly singing along to an acoustic performance of “Alone Again, Naturally,” which is basically the saddest pop song. Ever.
Even such gimmicky elements as a hairless cat who keeps showing up inside Gloria’s apartment, and of course the obligatory pot-smoking, are handled with style and wit. “Gloria Bell” is also that rare movie with passionate sex scenes between two characters that are close to turning (gasp!) 60.
This is a quiet film, moving at its own pace, reflecting life with such realism it’s as if we’re invisible guests in Gloria Bell’s life. And yet there’s something thrilling about watching such a great actress hitting all the right notes every step of the way.
A24 presents a film written and directed by Sebastián Lelio. Rated R (for sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use). Running time: 101 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.