Sebastián Lelo's remake of his 2013 film is lighter, funnier and more subtle in its depiction of a woman's mid-life search for love.
Image: Julianne Moore in Gloria Bell. Source: Roadshow.
Directors remaking their films for an English-language audience is nothing new. George Sluizer remade Vanishing (Spoorloos) as The Vanishing, gave it a different ending, and pretty much ruined it; Michael Haneke remade his 1997 film Funny Games a decade later and didn’t change a thing. With this remake of his 2013 film Gloria, Chilean writer-director Sebastián Lelio reworks his original in a more subtle fashion. Everything seems the same (some scenes are nearly identical), but it all adds up to something new.
It’s been twelve years since she was divorced but Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) hasn’t given up on finding love again. A regular at LA’s mature-age discos (where the hits of the 70s play all night long), she’s relentlessly optimistic when it seems like she doesn’t have all that much to be optimistic about. Her day job is a dull office slog, her nights are often spent listening to the ranting lunatic who lives upstairs – he’s the son of her landlord, so there’s only so many complaints she can make – and shooing his hairless cat out of her kitchen.
Her children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius) are still on the scene but only just; they’re both already distant, and they’re moving towards big changes that will take them away from her. Then she meets divorced former marine and paintball park owner Arnold (John Turturro) and tentatively they begin a relationship. The only problem is his clingy family; will he be able to start again with someone new? Does he even really want to?
This isn’t quite a scene-for-scene remake of the 2013 version (simply titled Gloria), but it comes close – which makes its shift in tone all the more impressive. In the original, Gloria’s desperation comes through more firmly; she’s a woman for whom time is running out. The Arnold character is more sinister (he’s much older, and having a military past in Chile means something very different), the overall tone darker. She’s still dancing, but the dance is a little more frantic.
Here though, it’s the comedy that’s played up. The set-piece scenes have a freer, more spontaneous feel (the LA sunshine helps), while the smaller moments in Gloria’s existence are filmed with an eye towards the absurdity of life. They’re rarely laugh-out-loud scenes, but they open the film up and give it a looser, airy vibe. It would be easy to see Gloria as just spinning her wheels, waiting for life to pick up – and as the film’s thin story gradually develops that’s definitely one reading of events – but this film makes a strong case that it’s the journey that’s important.
It’s rare to see characters like Gloria and Arnold fall in love on the big screen. They’re old enough to have a past, but not so old that they don’t have a future. In this version Arnold is still a man with a darker side and the film never treats him as a joke, but Turturro plays him with a lighter, more wounded, touch. He’s never a threat, just a man who’s given his life over to rules and order and can’t quite break away now that his devotion to duty is being used to keep him tied down.
It’s Moore who shines throughout. Again and again she makes fresh and vital moments that from someone else would easily feel stale (even scenes where she sings along to her car radio). Above all, she feels constantly alive, always present in the moment while her worries remain just under the surface, only rarely letting them show to devastating effect. This film is an exploration of her, and of how she’s making it through life; through good times or bad she remains defiantly, triumphantly herself.
Director: Sebastián Lelio
USA, 2019, 1hr 42min