By Eleanor Ringel Cater
How good is Julianne Moore?
So good that even when she’s sitting with her back to the camera, you can’t take your eyes off her.
That’s how she’s introduced in Sebastian Lelio’s quietly moving and intelligent “Gloria Bell,” a remake of his 2013 Chilean film. We’re at a seemingly mythical singles bar catering to the middle-aged. Gloria, who’s been divorced for over a decade, goes there often. She likes the drinks, she likes the music and she likes – loves– to dance. If she meets a guy there, well, that’s okay, too.
One night she does meet a guy – Arnold (John Turturro), a former Marine who’s been on his own for about a year (though just what “on his own” means is part of the crux of the story). The two go to bed first, then start dating, i.e., sharing the other parts of their lives that matter. But the course of true love – or true enough love – ne’er did run smooth.
Their up-and-down romance provides the movie’s framework, but mostly this is a movie about a glorious woman in her mid-50s and what sort of life she chooses. Or, given a culture that renders people (especially women) over 45 more or less invisible, what choices she’s allowed.
At its core, “Gloria Bell” is a thrilling character study in which Moore – one of the best actors of her generation – explores every nook and cranny of an interesting woman’s rather ordinary existence. Though most of us aren’t blessed with Moore’s cheekbones, she’s still recognizably a regular person, someone who drives a Honda and eats Pepperidge Farm cookies from the bag. Just consider the way she checks in with her grown children: “I love you,” she says in her voice message, adding, rather awkwardly, “It’s your mother.”
Though we get a lot less of his side of the story, Turturro is every bit Moore’s equal. A former fatty who lost over 100 pounds thanks to a gastric bypass, he’s now a catch in the female-dominated over-50 market. Sometimes it brings out the best in him; sometimes, it doesn’t.
Because it considers things like disappointment and loneliness, “Gloria Bell” may sound like a downer. But it’s not. The film can be as funny as it is keenly observant – just like its indomitable protagonist. If this had come out last year, Oscar winner Olivia Colman would’ve had a lot more to worry about than Glenn Close in “The Wife.”