I love movies like Gloria Bell. Little character studies, slices of life with a great, relatable main character are hard to fuck up, because it doesn’t rely on plot, but rather on charm, but when one is particularly good, it’s a fantastic movie-watching experience. Gloria Bell was one of those movies where the audience you’re watching it with laughs along with a certain recognition, having lived some of its more awkward moments.
Gloria, played to perfection by Julianne Moore, is a divorced, middle-aged woman looking for… I don’t know what, exactly. I don’t think she does, either. Love, romance, a certain amount of comfort in life. Financial stability, too, would be nice. Basically, she just wants the things we all want. She has good days, she had bad days, and she has a neighborhood cat, a hairless one, that manages to find its way into her apartment every other day. She handles it like a disease, not wanting to touch its bare skin, and sets it outside. And sometimes her upstairs neighbor, who happens to be the landlord’s son, has mental breakdowns and swears up a storm and screams about how he wishes he was dead. She’s dating a new guy named Arnold (John Turturro), which has its own set of ups and downs. Sometimes he reads her beautiful poetry and she cries; sometimes he’s allowing his ex-wife and daughters dictate his life and relationship to Gloria. Life continues, more or less, like this for her.
The film, directed by Sebastián Lelio, is a remake of his own movie, Gloria, which I haven’t seen. I’d like to now, but I’m sort of glad I haven’t seen it yet, so I have nothing to compare it to.
Gloria Bell feels to me like a particular type of movie you don’t see as much anymore outside of the 1970s anymore, and it reminded me a lot of Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman. It has this seemingly-effortless way of balancing humor and seriousness in equal measure, usually in the same dialogue exchange. Gloria Bell is amazing at extracting the humor from everyday life. It’s also a movie that really understands life. Gloria seems to be a bit more financially privileged, as people often are in the movies, but her struggles are real. I hate watching movies made by people who don’t really seem to get it. The drama is forced and fabricated. When money is tight and the world is a little less accessible, the struggle of everyday life is real. There’s a real fear in not knowing what you’re going to do with your life, or in Gloria’s case, knowing you’re maybe not ever going to be able to realistically retire.
The way Gloria deals with the things in her life, when fate throws her a curve ball, is my favorite thing about the movie. Sometimes she makes boneheaded decisions, sometimes she musters the courage and does something amazing, with the whole audience at the movies cheering that they get to live this moment vicariously through her. Sometimes character studies are frustrating because we’re watching a character basically bang their head against a wall and wonder why their life is in such ruin. Gloria Bell is far too self-aware to indulge in those kinds of cliches. We’re not watching someone grow and learn the most basic of lessons. We’re watching someone who’s already lived a full life actively work on improving herself, and sometimes stumbling along the way. It’s a fantastic movie.