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Blu-ray Review: Gloria Bell

June 18, 2019

By John Corrado

★★ (out of 4)

An English-language remake of his own acclaimed 2013 Chilean drama Gloria, Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria Bell is an almost beat for beat copy of the original film, except the setting has been changed to Los Angeles to make it more accessible for American audiences.

The result is a technically well made and fairly well acted remake that hues so closely to the original in terms of story that it ultimately feels pointless, while also lacking a good deal of the naturalistic charm that made its predecessor work as well as it did.

The film follows the titular Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore), a recently divorced middle aged woman who hangs out at a dance club in Los Angeles. She has two adult children, son Peter (Michael Cera) who has a newborn child of his own with a partner who is absent, and daughter Anne (Caren Pistorius), who teaches yoga classes and is about to marry her Swedish surfer boyfriend, Theo (Jesse Erwin).

Gloria has settled into a somewhat mundane daily routine, working a boring job at a car insurance company and singing along with pop songs on her drive to work, before going out dancing and looking for love in the evenings. Things start looking up for Gloria when she meets Arnold (John Turturro) at the club, a fellow middle aged divorcée who runs a makeshift amusement park where he likes to play war with his paintball guns, and seems to share her joie de vivre. But Arnold’s ex-wife and adult daughters are still overly dependent upon him, making him unreliable and frustrating as a partner.

This is such a beat for beat copy of Gloria that it’s hard for me to review Gloria Bell without comparing the two. These are essentially the same movie, and yet one works vastly better than the other, mainly due to the subtle differences in how the titular character is portrayed in both films. Paulina Garcia’s original portrayal of Gloria felt more grounded and relatable, where as Moore’s take on Gloria makes her seem a little ditzier, and she brings a sort of forced peppiness to the character that actually makes her somewhat annoying at times in a way that the original character wasn’t.

Take, for example, a dinner table conversation with friends that in the original centred around political uprising in Chile, and is here refashioned to be a debate about the distinctly more American topic of gun control. Garcia’s Gloria added her own political insights to the conversation, touching upon the plight and anger of the Chilean working class, where as Moore’s Gloria, when the conversation gets somewhat heated, simply observes that “when the world blows up, I hope to go down dancing,” a prime example of how her character here is portrayed as vastly less sophisticated and far more simplistic.

Garcia’s Gloria felt more textured, where as Moore’s Gloria simply lacks the sort of substance that would make her a compelling protagonist to watch for a hundred minutes, and ends up coming across as a sort of middle aged version of a manic pixie dream girl. Garcia’s Gloria was also lonelier and more isolated, which is a big part of what made her so sympathetic, where as Moore’s character is given a couple of new girlfriends to confide in and seems a great deal more privileged in her life. The film sticks so closely to the original in terms of plot that it’s hard to determine what the point of remaking it even was, and the changes that have been made either feel needless or simply don’t work.

Where as the original film managed to feel lived-in and natural in its intimate portrayal of an average, ordinary middle aged woman, this remake just ends up feeling sort of mundane and sitcomish in a way that is actually somewhat boring to watch. The whole thing can’t help but feel like a vanity project for Julianne Moore, who also serves as executive producer and spearheaded the project. While it can be somewhat interesting to compare the two films beside each other, I would personally stick with the original, and certainly hope that people don’t decide to only watch this one instead.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Sebastián Lelio, a short featurette entitled An Extraordinary Ordinary Woman: Making Gloria Bell, about an hour of interviews with Moore and Lelio, and a shorter selection of soundbites featuring Moore on her own.

Gloria Bell is a VVS Films release. It’s 102 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: June 4th, 2019

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