Props to Julianne Moore, 57, for producing an English-language remake of the uplifting 2013 Chilean film Gloria — which earned 19 international awards, a 99 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating and an AARP Movies for Grownups award nomination — helmed by the same talented director, Sebastian Lelio (whose transgender drama A Fantastic Woman grabbed the foreign-film Oscar last year). As the title character in Gloria Bell, stunning ginger beauty Moore dons big specs and strains to be an ordinary Orange County, Calif., divorced grandmother muddling through midlife. As if!
There is huge ambition here, reflecting the plight of Hollywood’s mature and most talented leading ladies as they search for material that will put them front and center, carrying the narrative arc they so richly deserve. Time and again — in the tragic early-Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice, for which she won the best actress Oscar in 2015, and the overlooked 2018 Bel Canto — Moore has sought roles that matched and amplified her unique talents: sharpness, grace, attention to detail, a bold desire to bare all and an iciness that would have made her, with a bottle of peroxide, an ideal Hitchcock heroine.
The hardest challenge for this extraordinary actress is playing ordinary and quotidian. Whether singing along to Olivia Newton John’s “A Little More Love” in her sensible sedan on the freeway or negotiating insurance claims in a nondescript modern office, Moore channels her inner awkwardness and vulnerability. At night, Gloria Bell tries to shed her self-consciousness and push away loneliness by going solo to a suburban disco, where she can surrender to the beats of her youth. At the bar she picks up Arnold (John Turturro, 62), an allegedly divorced ex-Marine. He can dance, and she likes where he leads, even if it’s only in circles under a disco ball. They tumble into bed for a series of encounters made all the more stiff by the actors’ lack of chemistry (they are old friends in real life, and that familiarity may have made the intimate scenes easier on the players, but for the viewer they’re hardly erotic).
The surrounding ensemble — led by Michael Cera as Gloria’s son; Brad Garrett, 58, as her larger-than-life ex-husband; Holland Taylor, 76, as her mother; and Jeanne Tripplehorn, 55, as her ex-husband’s wife — are top-notch. And it’s through Gloria’s interactions with these characters that the film addresses all-too-common problems for contemporary American women over 50 that go beyond dating and discos: the cloak of invisibility that can come after the kids are raised, the meaningful career long ago set aside, and the husband who has moved on to a younger wife and, perhaps, a new family.
In this carefully crafted character study, Moore sketches this woman who’s struggling to make a satisfying life with solo dinners, trying new things like zip-lining, and escaping to Las Vegas to capture true romance in the least authentic setting possible. The drama concludes with Laura Branigan’s 1980s anthem “Gloria,” as Moore’s divorcée finally dances to her own beat. While that moment is liberating, the strain of this extraordinary, luminous actress attempting to squeeze into a suburban shell pinches, leaving Moore still searching for her Hollywood groove.
[[This review first appeared on AARP]]