Gloria Bell - Review
An exploration of middle-aged womanhood filled with joy, regret, and heartbreak.
Hitting with the passion of a punch to the gut, Gloria Bell doesn’t settle for anything. There is a brilliant mind-trick occurring within its indie aesthetic and adult themes, converging in a way that’s more rewarding than most films dare to be. Gloria Bell asks you to come along for its ride, to leave all expectations at the door, and if you do, it will leave you joyful and dancing.
Not unlike his masterful A Fantastic Woman, Disobedience, and the original Spanish-language Gloria, Gloria Bell is an exploration of radical change in a woman for Sebastián Lelio, told with breathtaking clarity. There are multiple jarring cuts in Gloria Bell that cut out persiflage in the titular character’s life; the ends are far more important than the means, especially for someone beginning to realize the lack of control in her life. Decisions are made quickly, rashly, patiently, and carefully: more like an actual person does. It takes a moment for Gloria’s (Julianne Moore) seemingly erratic behaviour to land in a place that makes narrative sense, and just when it does there is something to uproot her again. Take her relationship with Arnold (John Turturro); a preoccupied romantic who still lives with his ex-wife and kids. Gloria’s life is built on a loose routine: work, home, visit kids, exercise, blast 80s power-ballads on the way back to work, and repeat. The advent of Arnold’s seeming infatuation lands like a foreseeable lightning-bolt, an indie-movie cliche, as well as a predictable turn-of-events for the middle-aged Gloria. Rather than fall down the love-struck rabbit hole, Gloria Bell slowly reveals Arnold’s various structural flaws, until he leaves her stranded in Vegas on a weekend away; then we hate him, as we should, because this is not a movie about rediscovering life at 50, or turning to a new lover after a divorce; this is about Gloria, a funny, overwhelmed, slipping woman who has yet to realize she’s special enough not to need a dance partner.
Gloria Bell beautifully flips expectations. The dark/neon lighting provides an indie flavor as clear as anything A24 has released thus far, and the choice of music practically screams whatever Gloria is feeling, setting up a journey of misplaced priorities and overcomings. But for all its sheen and glow, Gloria Bell is a surprisingly uneventful film. There are few emotional explosions (save for one very special scene), and Gloria doesn’t go through anything more scarring than a bad relationship. That’s not to minimize that relationship; the opposite, in fact: Gloria Bell does a fantastic job dangling major drama, such as Gloria’s insecure son (Michael Cera) and rage-prone ex-husband (Brad Garrett), but instead pursues the more insignificant aspects of Gloria’s life: a bag of weed left on her front door, the music she listens to in the car, various yoga lessons. The one time it does latch onto something dramatic, it doesn’t work out. Gloria is the mid-life crisis ball of contained energy so many films have depicted, but with two crucial differences: one, she is a woman, and two, she is not romantically dramatic.
There’s a scene at the end of Gloria Bell where Gloria visits her emotionally abusive boyfriend’s house with a paintball gun. She hops out of her car, unloads the gun into his home and his gut, and puts him in the rearview, a massive smile on her face. It’s the most exciting scene in the film by far, though there are plenty of other, more scaled-down displays of happiness; vapid attempts at strengthening her self-worth, of finding a partner to share life with, or a reason to get involved in her children’s lives. Before the paintball scene, Gloria is drowning. She supports those around her and gleans the life off of others: she is having a crisis. Classic solutions such as love, family, and drugs are all in play, but what Gloria needs most is to be free. A symbol for her lack of control is shirked as she gets up for one last dance at the end of the film, removing her ever-present glasses. She steps once again into the neon-pink lights of the disco, the place she claims to be happiest, and as she dances, blissfully unaware of her actions and herself, there’s no resisting the smile that begins to creep up on her face, and our own. And she’s dancing on her own.