Gloria Bell doesn’t so much feel like a straightforward narrative as a tattered patchwork. Every square of the quilt represents a different facet of what makes Gloria (Julianne Moore) tick: She belts out Air Supply with the car stereo, dotes on her fractured family, and prowls for affection in the neon haze of night clubs. Gloria simultaneously projects wounded vulnerability and a quiet reservoir of strength and patience. By forgoing traditional plot momentum, Gloria Bell requires the viewer to step back after the movie is over and evaluate the entire pattern, rather than the flow of one square to the next. This freewheeling vibe may be off-putting to some, but those can get into its eccentric groove will find Gloria Bell to be an insightful, moving, and occasionally humorous character study.
Gloria is an attractive, middle-aged woman, whose easy smile comes with a hint of sadness. She hunkers over dingy bars, pounds martinis, and works up the courage to dance up on strange men. Gloria’s life is one of cheerful loneliness until she meets Arnold (John Turturro) during one of these drunken escapades. Their connection is immediate, even though there are striking differences within their similarities: The scars of her divorce have faded, while his are still raw and wrenching. Where Gloria’s adult children tend to marginalize her, Arnold’s grown daughters cling to him with crippling dependence. She tends to find the brighter side of things, while he spirals in nervous anxiety. Despite their issues, Gloria and Arnold fall in love and enter each other’s lives in different ways. As the movie progresses, she must confront whether or not a relationship with this kind, affable, yet deeply flawed man is truly worth the pain it causes her.
Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, who remakes his earlier movie of the same name, works in lockstep with Julianne Moore to create a vivid, complex character. Gloria can be proud, pitiful, playful, or deeply wounded–sometimes all within the span of a single conversation. Moore once again showcases how few actresses can match her emotional range, and her performance greatly elevates this movie.
Moore’s star turn is abetted by the solid players all around her: I get excited any time Turturro shows up in a movie, as he always brings a kooky, off-center energy to every role. His Arthur is both engaging and exasperating, and like Moore, Turturro can play both in the same scene. They have palpable chemistry with each other, adding real tension to their budding romance. Aside from this star couple, many recognizable faces show up to add a little kick to the gumbo: There’s Brad Garrett as Gloria’s regretful ex-husband, Michael Cera plays her callow son, and Rita Wilson brings some effortless sass as the requisite best friend.
As a movie, Gloria Bell radiates both a strange sense of fun and a deep-seated melancholy, not unlike the character at its center. Like an awkwardly beautiful poem, this story moves to a different kind of meter. It has real moments of warmth and affectionate humor, and a tone that’s all its own. Stick with it, and Gloria Bell will reward you.