While I’m very gracious for being born an 80’s baby and growing up a 90’s kid there’s something quite effervescent about disco. They say Disco is dead, but I get what made it feel alive. It’s a melodic euphoria filling work out set to bells, dings, and alien sounding tones.
Julianne Moore in Sebastian Lelio’s American adaptation from a 2013 Chilean film “Gloria” is Gloria Bell in “Gloria Bell”.
Yeah; so, the title is simple and so is this film. Set in contemporary L.A Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) is a 50+ Single divorcée who spends her evenings in search for something at Disco dance clubs. I didn’t know Disco clubs were still a thing, but now that I do I hope to find some here in Atlanta just to see what they’re like.
That search is what this film is all about. Gloria is in search of companionship. She’s in search of more friendships. She’s in search of a connection to something and someone of substance. This is a little more than a day in the life story as we spend several weeks with Gloria in relation to everyone and everything around her.
There’s an underlying disconnect initially in the beginning of the film between Gloria and her Son Peter (Michael Cera) and Daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius). The pacing of the film allows the audience to really experience Gloria’s dysfunction as an over loving mother to her disinterested children. However, we miss the context clues to why they feel this way toward her. Especially with both kids at major points in their lives surrounding their own children. Anne ‘s a newly expectant mother to a Big Wave Surfer from Sweden who’s planning to move across the world. This should be a time where leaning on your mother’s wisdom should be paramount, but confusingly it’s not. As for Peter, he’s a pseudo single dad that is married, however has an absentee wife who’s trying to get her shit together. Another example of an opportunity for Gloria to be a welcomed support but gets frustratingly pushed away.
The only real connection that remains a constant for her is a work friend who exclaims her gripes with their company. We can all relate to water cooler talk and how our employers can be less than accommodating to our work life balance. They mutually indulge in their singleness and bitterness together, however it seems slightly more one sided on her friends part as Gloria seems like she’s just trying to agree to come across a little more relatable.
Once again, its evident that Gloria’s goal is to relate to something. Lelio depicts the frequency of Gloria’s late nights juxtaposed to her daytime mundane-ness so much so were waiting for something to happen.
And waiting, and still waiting. And while we wait we get more of her days experimenting with some very interesting ways to connect; like Chicken wing laugh flapping lessons. Thankfully there’s a gorgeous score throughout the film that helps drown out the lack of entertaining moments, until Gloria meets Arnold (John Turturro).
They meet at a Disco Club Gloria frequents and have a unique connection. Moore and Turturro's chemistry is awesome. So much is unspoken, and we have on display a very sensual connection that inspires and renews something in Gloria. Arnold is newly divorced himself yet comes with some baggage. Gloria being a veteran divorcee has been at this for over 10 years and remains very open and patient to what Arnold is experiencing. Their relationship is steamy and a refreshing outing for Tuturro on screen. Not relegated to a slapstick supporting role or bad guy is nice for a change and he flourishes as a man conflicted emotionally and socially. The more time he spends with Gloria he does open himself up, but what furthers the plot is the mystery to Arnold’s character. As Gloria and Arnold's relation strengthens there’s a shroud of something a little off every time Arnold is pulled away from her due to what he says are family issues. Gloria ignores repeatedly however and falls hard for him.
Later Gloria takes Arnold as a date to a get together with her divorced husband Dustin (Brad Garrett) and Anne hosted at Peter’s home. An odd picture, thinking of a long union between a man of Brad Garrett’s size and Julianne Moore, but the night is just as awkward yet warm. The group mingles and talks and reminisces but to a fault. Gloria gets caught up in the past looking at pictures and recanting stories of her previous marriage when everything seemed to be right in her life she forgets about what she has right in front her. So much so, Arnold feels the disconnect from his date he slips out of the apartment unnoticed for a while and leaves. A distraught Gloria is stunned, scared, remorseful, but also angry as her calls are ignored and she can’t fix what she may have done wrong.
Days go by and Gloria is burdened with wanting to be and do better but not given the chance by the people she holds close to her. More days go by and Arnold reaches back out to apologize but Gloria is too furious to let him in again. The conflict escalates as Arnold confronts her in the parking garage of her job. She denies him. Gloria is in a downward spiral of unrequited love and disconnection and this isn’t even her lowest point. Her friend from work loses her job. Her daughter moves to Sweden. And a weird sphinx cat continues to stalk her in her apartment and she has no idea how it gets inside. As annoying as its presence is, it’s the one thing that makes a commitment to find itself back to her.
This story is not tragic but it’s also not very fulfilling. That’s emphasized even greater after Gloria finally gives into to Arnold's pursuit and begs to be taken away some place where it’s just them. A place where she and him can just have each other without any distractions from their families. Arnold and Gloria fly off to Vegas and have a romantic night that culminates with a beautiful dinner.
Just when you think all is well multiple phone calls hours earlier plagues Arnold and his hesitations swarm back. He reassures Gloria he can tune it out until a deep conversation at dinner leaves Gloria left again at the table. Arnold creeps away and this time leaves her alone in Vegas.
What a guy? And I was really pulling for you dude!
Gloria sulks and reflects and makes the best of the night with a Vegas-Style one-night stand provided by an odd Sean Aston cameo. The next morning Gloria wakes up at the pool in another hotel and needs a rescue from her mother to get back to LA. We’re back to where we were earlier with Gloria seeking, searching, but now more dejected than ever. It’s a frustrating picture to see a woman so out of sorts with no clear destination and ultimately no clear resolution. She does get back at Arnold, getting the courage to fight back and shoot him up in front of his home with some paint ball equipment he left behind at her place, but that’s it. We leave the theater with final images of Gloria back dancing to disco at an old friend’s daughter’s wedding. She’s vibrant and smiling and just gutting it out and being content with being her. Maybe, that’s the point.
It’s a tough movie to wrap my head completely around. Sebastian Lelio’s eye for setting very romantic scenes that blend with a unique score makes this film one of Julianne Moore’s sexiest and you don’t want to take your eyes off her the entire time. She’s vulnerable yet strong in a lot of the film while dealing with some intense moments of personal dissatisfaction with a lot of things going on in her life.
Who is Gloria Bell? Is she you in the theater watching? If so, this movie can be a somewhat entertaining and relatable experience. If not, what’s depicted onscreen is an unfulfilling journey that feels like it should be rewarding but ultimately is as dead as Disco itself. This is more than just a day in the life story and highlights one of Julianne Moore’s best performances, but the script is disparaging and doesn’t provide the payoff that this film deserves.
KOLBYTOLDME RATING- 6/10
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Writer: Alice Johnson Boher, Sebastian Lelio, Gonzalo Maza
Run Time: 102 mins