Julianne Moore lights up the screen in a remake of Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s 2013 Gloria, in which Paulina García played a fiftyish divorcée trying to negotiate the Santiago singles scene. Hollywood retreads of foreign films are rarely a good idea (did you see Miss Bala?), but Gloria Bell is a playful, pleasure-giving exception. It helps that Moore wanted Lelio — an Oscar winner for the trans drama A Fantastic Woman — to direct it himself, and he makes the switch to L.A. dance clubs with no loss in empathetic intimacy.
And Moore is just phenomenal as this mother of two adult children (Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius) who mostly ignore her. She finds Gloria’s loneliness and frustration in being stuck in a dull insurance job, but also her exhilarating joy in life. That comes at a disco where Gloria relives her youth and forges a tentative connection with the more recently divorced Arnold (John Turturro), an ex Marine who now works as a paintball instructor. Moore and Turturro, in the tricky role of a man who maybe can’t be trusted, are perfection.
Lelio takes his time showing how these two bruised romantics negotiate the relationship battlefield. Gloria has been divorced for over a decade, but Arnold — recently slim thanks to a gastric bypass operation — is so new to the game he’s barely left home. His demanding wife calls him incessantly with demands, as do his two grown daughters. That’s a warning signal for Gloria, who naturally resents their near-constant interference to the point of tossing Arnold’s cellphone into his soup.
In one scene, masterfully staged by Lelio, Gloria invites Arnold to a birthday party for her son. Also attending is her now-remarried ex-husband (a superb Brad Garrett), who talks easily of his former marriage as the two share family photos of their wedding. Feeling shut out, Arnold doesn’t just exit the party, he rudely vanishes without telling anyone, leaving Gloria hurt and angry. Confronting her later, Arnold says, “I searched in your eyes — I didn’t exist.’ Turturro makes the moment bleed with emotion, even when Gloria correctly tells him to “grow a pair.” Lelio invests his film with a generous tenderness that extends to every character.
Still, it’s Gloria we can’t turn away from as she sings 1980s power ballads in her car and copes with the shouts of a menacing neighbor whose hairless cat sneaks into her apartment and her heart. Moore lets those moments of bliss on the dance floor, gorgeously shot by Natasha Braier, pop off that screen as Gloria seems to draw an elating strength from the lights and the music. Moore erases any trace of self-pity from the character. “If the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing,” says Gloria. You can’t leave Lelio’s funny, touching and vital film — a cover version with a resonance all its own — without hoping Gloria’s wish will come triumphantly true.