This Sebastián Lelio doesn’t let the moss gather. The Chilean director has now put out four films made in three countries in a span of five years, all of them displaying a high degree of craftsmanship without feeling like they’ve been polished to death. His drama Gloria was released in America in early 2014, then his transgender film A Fantastic Woman won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2016, then his British lesbian romance Disobedience marked his strong English-language debut last year. Now comes Gloria Bell, a shot-for-shot English remake of Gloria set in America. I like this better than the original, and it’s partly because of Julianne Moore, but it’s mostly because this is so much better than other American movies pitched at older viewers.
Moore portrays the title character, a bespectacled, long-divorced insurance agent in L.A. Her children are grown, with her daughter (Caren Pistorius) preparing to move to Sweden to have her professional surfer boyfriend’s baby and her son (Michael Cera) raising his baby alone because his wife is always off on some spiritual retreat trying to find herself. As for Gloria, she frequents bars and nightclubs for older singles, where she finds a newly divorced boyfriend named Arnold (John Turturro) who runs a paintball course in the desert and seems to be having trouble cutting the cord with his own adult children.
So often movies treat women in late middle age who are still interested in sex as objects of pathos or comedy. This film treats Gloria’s sex life with a gratifyingly offhand normalcy. It helps that the 58-year-old lead actress continues to look good naked, but Lelio does not hold our hands when he shows us Gloria pulling lame dance moves in nightclubs (the soundtrack is full of rock and disco songs from her youth, the 1970s and ’80s). When a trip to Vegas with Arnold goes sour, Gloria reacts by going on an epic bender through the city with a younger guy (Sean Astin) and ends up passed out on a swimming pool deck chair with one shoe missing, but you don’t feel the filmmaker judging her for this.
Lelio thankfully does not succumb to a common flaw of these movies — Gloria’s apartment and her ex-husband’s house look like normal dwellings instead of like something pulled out of the pages of interior design magazines. Gloria’s life may be nondescript compared to the lives of other movie heroines, but it’s nevertheless dotted with incident, like the upstairs neighbor whom we never see but hear screaming at his walls at all hours. No wonder his Sphynx cat is constantly wandering into Gloria’s apartment no matter what measures she takes. A great, tense comic scene ensues during a dinner party thrown by Gloria’s ex (Brad Garrett), during which Arnold nurses some obscure grievance that grows worse and worse until he simply walks out without anyone noticing. Some of the details here feel so specific to L.A. (such as the laughter therapy group that Gloria goes to) that it’s hard to believe that they’re in the Chilean version of the film as well.
All this is anchored by one of Moore’s career-best performances, and I don’t say that lightly. She has been turning in great work since the turn of the 1990s, and it is piercing to see her as a character reckoning with the fact that old age is right up on her. Never is this more true than in a scene at an airport when she goes to see her daughter off to Europe and suddenly finds herself overtaken by grief. Yet even though her vision is failing her, she still sings along to the radio and dances on the nightclub floor by herself (to — what else? — “Gloria”) even though she can’t really do either. This movie and this actress are too wise to slip into any sort of age-denying “60 is the new 30” crap, but they remind us that only when you lose the impulse to live like Gloria Bell are you truly old.
Starring Julianne Moore and John Turturro. Directed by Sebastián Lelio. Written by Alice Johnson Boher, based on Sebastián Lelio and Gonzalo Maza’s screenplay. Rated R.