2017’s A Fantastic Woman, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s fifth film, was celebrated as a critical darling for a multitude of well-earned reasons – not least being Lelio’s rich characterisation of Marina (Daniela Vega), the film’s transgender protagonist, defined by her heroic rejection of victimhood. Lelio, excitingly, belongs to an unfortunately exclusive filmmaking club, one occupied by the likes of Almodóvar, Buñuel, and Haynes: he’s a male writer-director who can competently depict women. Gloria Bell – the director’s newest film, an English-language adaptation of his Gloria (2013) – is no different.
Gloria Bell follows the eponymous Gloria (Julianne Moore), a confident, autonomous, eighties-power-ballad-adoring woman who has been divorced for 12 years. By night she frequents a series of Los Angeles clubs and bars. Gloria does, eventually, begin a relationship with one of the patrons with whom she hits it off, Arnold (John Turturro). While Gloria’s dramatic arc has her experience some pretty terrible lows alongside her fun-loving highs, she consistently maintains strong individualism. This is no straightforward, surface-level romance drama, though. Through Gloria, Lelio gently examines a wider variety of contextual themes, from existentialism, to loneliness, to aging.
Lelio’s strong writing provides a great baseline, but being such a candid, personal character study – where Gloria occupies the vast majority of the film’s running time – the film would collapse without a strong central performance. Julianne Moore, quite frankly, kills it: from the multiple scenes of Gloria’s driving-seat karaoke (‘All Out of Love’, particularly, takes the cake), to her hallucinatory maunder through Las Vegas, Moore has absolute control over, and understanding of, Gloria’s characterisation.
Supported by Natasha Braier’s deft, compassionate cinematography, Julianne Moore’s stellar performance, and strong, nuanced character writing, Gloria Bell smashes the Bechdel Test and further solidifies Sebastián Lelio as an auteur capable of immense empathy.
CAST: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera
DIRECTOR: Sebastián Lelio
WRITER: Sebastián Lelio
SYNOPSIS: Gloria (Julianne Moore) is a free-spirited divorcee who spends her days at a straight-laced office job and her nights on the dancefloor, joyfully letting loose at clubs around Los Angeles.