Julianne Moore is a very expressive actress. No matter if she is playing action, comedy or drama, she tends to wear her emotions on her sleeves. Whether it is anger, fear, happiness, she allows the audience to decipher what she is going through based on her reactions, instead of always spelling everything out. That talent has earned her four Oscar nominations (with one win). It is put to wonderful use one more time in her newest drama, Gloria Bell, about a lonely divorced woman trying to keep smiling, and maybe find love again later in life. It is not a new story (in fact, it is a remake of writer/director Sebastián Lelio’s own 2013 Spanish-language drama Gloria), but the material is energized by its star. It is about how she feels, as opposed to plot.
Gloria is a positive person who has stayed close to her two adult children and frequents a nightclub in the hopes of meeting a nice man (also because she likes to dance). The bulk of the movie concerns her relationship with Arthur, a fellow divorcee searching hard for connection. It is a basic story, not given a ton of depth by the screenplay. However, Lelio keeps the focus consistently on his lead and she pays off his trust tremendously.
Moore laughs, cries and smiles through pain as well as, or better than, any current actress. Gloria has friends, a job and a reasonably good relationship with her grown-up children, but there is something missing. Her anguish and optimism are both evident in every close-up of Moore. Even when she is observing or listening, she is performing. The scene where she meets Arthur is a great example of Moore’s skill. She notices him noticing her. Subtly, you can tell she is interested, yet cautious. When he approaches her at the bar, the camera stays tight on her. The way she controls her expressions when he talks to her says more than her responses do. It is an intelligent strategy by Lelio and Moore takes advantage of it brilliantly.
Though this is Moore’s vehicle, the supporting actors assist by establishing their characters succinctly. John Turturro is a perfect foil for her as Arthur. Where she tries to live her own life, separate from her family, he feels responsible for his grown daughters and ex-wife. He is very good at showing his love, desperation and neediness all fighting for attention. It is a challenging part that could have been annoying, but he makes Arthur real. Michael Cera, as her son, Peter, is equally loving and self-absorbed. It is a serious role he handles capably. Caren Pistorious is her daughter, Anne, a yoga instructor who perhaps resembles a younger version of her mother. They all help viewers see Gloria and, more importantly, help her see herself.
Gloria Bell (96 minutes without the end credits) is a sensitive look at a woman not content to just be a mother/grandmother. While she is still alive, she wants to live the best life she can. Though she would like to meet someone, she is not going to settle. Lelio’s approach is to lock in on Gloria. There are several scenes where we just watch her, even if the action is taking place somewhere else. He makes it clear that what is central is what is going on inside her head. Gloria’s perspective is everything. Lelio never rushes his story or leans too heavily on any plot point. He mostly lets Gloria’s journey speak for itself. Thanks to Moore, it becomes a pretty rewarding experience.
3¾ out of 5
Julianne Moore as Gloria
John Turturro as Arnold
Michael Cera as Peter
Caren Pistorius as Anne
Brad Garrett as Dustin
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Screenplay by Alice Johnson Boher and Sebastián Lelio