Some audiences shudder at the thought of remakes of foreign films but their necessity is understandable. I saw 19 foreign films out of 100 in 2013. That’s when Sebastián Lelio’s original version of Gloria came out and even I couldn’t fit that into my schedule. Accessibility and distribution also factor into this conversation. For access’ sake, he remade his own film into all-American Gloria Bell. Translating the story from its original Chilean context into a presumably Southern California one isn’t perfect. But this is still an authentic look at the mutable experience of its titular fifty-something divorcee (Julianne Moore).
We already make assumptions when we read the words ‘fifty-something divorcee,’ and sometimes, this movie plays into them. We first meet Gloria at a bar, alone, and that happens quite a bit here. But Lelio’s writing doesn’t treat her sadistically as he does to the protagonist in his previous film A Fantastic Woman. In Gloria’s case, he doesn’t have to change her appearance drastically before she finally gets lucky at the bar scene. During the first night, she ends up dancing with an acquaintance and goes home alone. During the second, she dances with another man and catches the eye of a third, Arnold (John Turturro).
There’s also gentler approach in the way that he and his DP Natasha Braier shoots her. It might seem reductive to compare Braier to Harris Savides, another DP who shot Southern California with love. Although her colors aren’t as lively as they are in real life, she’s more flexible than Savides. Braier can be glossy in The Neon Demon and do the exact opposite here. She mutes the colors when the film shows us Gloria’s work life. But that’s probably better than the cold metals that we often see when other films show us where people work. She also uses bisexual lighting to shoot Gloria’s environments, giving the film that edge.
One of the few things that are irksome about this movie is the way they write Gloria’s relationship with Arnold. She takes him out to see her friends or family. But her understanding of his life only exists through his phone calls or anecdotes. It’s frustrating to see this caginess when movies depict queer relationships. Although that does reflects the caginess that some queer people have in their lives. And seeing straight people do the same thing can give some audiences more ambivalent reactions.
Nonetheless, it’s Lelio’s pacing that makes this character study work. Lelio tells Gloria’s story more deliberately. That is a better approach than the manic barrage of plot points that Hollywood delivers in their films. He populates this story with memorable supporting characters like Gloria’s adult children Peter (Michael Cera) and Anne (Caren Pistorius). Even with a few scenes, he shows that these children’s love lives are as complicated as Gloria’s. His actors are also on his side. Together, they imbue these characters with a sense of vulnerability that feels authentically universal.