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Gloria Bell

Back in 2013, there was a Chilean movie called Gloria, directed and co-written by Sebastian Lelio. The movie racked up great critical acclaim and was chosen as Chile’s candidate for Best Foreign Language Feature at the Oscars that year, but didn’t get nominated. Six years later, we’ve got Gloria Bell, an English-language remake of that movie, directed by Lelio himself. He also cowrote the adaptation, alongside Alice Johnson Boher, with star Julianne Moore exec-producing.

Naturally, my first thought went to the male/female ratio of creative talent behind the scenes of this overtly female-centric movie, and how that was complicated by the adaptation process of a director remaking his own movie in another language. But in the end, untangling all of that was nowhere near worth the effort.

Gloria Bell is a straightforward slice-of-life story about the eponymous Gloria, played by Moore. She’s got a stable job as an auto insurance claims adjuster, though her retirement “benefits” are such that she may never work long enough that she can afford to retire. She lives in an apartment below someone prone to dangerously loud psychotic breaks, and there’s a freaky hairless cat that routinely sneaks into her apartment through unknown means. She’s got two grown children, one grandson, and an ex-husband that she divorced over a decade ago.

Our male lead is Arnold Tenner, played by John Turturro. He’s an older man who runs a kind of park out in the desert where customers can play at paintball and run simulated missions (Capture the Flag, for example). Arnold is a recent divorcee with two grown children, though he’s still paying for support of some kind — the details are never made entirely clear. Anyway, Gloria and Arnold meet up at a singles bar and thus we have our romantic dramedy.

Right off the bat, this film has a serious drawback: It’s a movie about boring old white people with perfectly stable lives and no real problems of their own. Nobody’s in any danger of losing their home or livelihood, nobody is sick, and there’s not a single death — or even a risk of a single death — in the entire movie. From start to finish, this whole movie is basically nothing but our characters moping around about post-middle-age burnout because they don’t have anything better to worry about. That isn’t even getting started on all the plot threads that end up going nowhere.

In terms of stakes, this picture has precisely nada. So why should we care about anything that happens, and why should we watch it?

Well, for starters, the cast is all aces. Julianne Moore’s performance is utterly fearless, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that she’s never been one to shy away from onscreen sex or nudity. Meanwhile, John Turturro puts in what may be the most vulnerable, compelling, authentically human performance of his entire career. We’ve also got solid supporting turns from Brad Garrett, Michael Cena, and Caren Pistorius. Rita Wilson, Chris Mulkey, Barbara Sukowa, Holland Taylor, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and even Sean freaking Astin all turn in memorable work with very little runtime. There is seriously not a single dud in this cast.

A serious benefit of all this talent is that it lends the movie an overabundance of charm, and that’s the movie’s true selling point. The story may be overwhelmingly basic and I know I have no reason to give the first shit about what happens, but God help me, I genuinely liked spending time with these characters.

Moreover, this is a movie all about finding love and happiness later in life. That’s a surprisingly common theme in cinema (They made two Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movies, for Christ’s sake.), but this one is made unique by its particular brand of infectious optimism and fun. To say nothing of the feminist streak that becomes especially prominent near the end.

Underneath the sweet facade, what really makes this movie work is the question of how to build a future when you’ve got more years behind you than in front of you. How do you find new friends and lovers at an age when all your old friends and loved ones are dying or moving away at a steady pace? When you’ve spent so many years building up a career and a family, juggling all of that responsibility with your baggage and your steadily growing medical needs, how do you slot someone else into all of that? And when someone else’s life is just as long and accomplished, how do you fit yourself into theirs?

Oh, and of course we can’t forget all the standard questions that come with love and romance. How to see if someone’s the real deal, how to work past disagreements and squabbles, when you’re better off single, and so on. These are all mundane questions, but ones that we all have to grapple with, and the filmmakers dive in with gusto.

Gloria Bell is the kind of movie that I cautiously want to recommend without overhyping. The near-perfect Tomatometer might lead you to the mistaken impression that this is some innovative, mind-blowing, genre-redefining instant classic destined for massive awards success. It’s not even close to all of that, but I don’t think that’s what the filmmakers wanted it to be. Instead, it’s just a pleasant and solidly made yet disposable 100-minute trifle that just happens to feature Julianne Moore and John Turturro leading a phenomenal cast of actors.

It might be worth checking out on the big screen if it’s playing near you and you’ve already seen everything else. But when this one hits video, be sure to give it a watch ASAP.

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