I’m “biast” (con): always wary of English-language remakes of foreign films
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
There’s usually little reason for a foreign-language film to get an English-language remake (that English-speaking audiences have an aversion to reading subtitles isn’t a good reason). But writer-director Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) found a really great excuse: because Julianne Moore, goddess, wanted to star in an American do-over of his 2013 dramedy Gloria. And as is typically not the way of these things, Gloria Bell does not feel superfluous next to the original movie but a wonderful compliment to it, with an unexpected additional feminist note in how it underscores the universalities of women’s lives across cultures, or at least across postindustrial Western ones.
The action has moved from Santiago to Los Angeles — and Lelio and Gonzalo Maza’s script has taken on a new writer, Alice Johnson Boher, perhaps to Americanize things — but much is the same here for this new Gloria, a divorced, 50something woman with a mundane office job. She is a magnificently ordinary woman, the kind we barely see onscreen at any age, and even less so the older a woman gets. Women like Gloria are, at best, usually supporting characters in bigger cinematic stories… as she is in the lives of those around her. Her son, Peter (Michael Cera: Molly’s Game, The Lego Batman Movie), has a newborn and a partner who has seemingly walked away (we never see her, but we hear him arguing with her over the phone). Her daughter, Anne (Caren Pistorius: Mortal Engines, Denial), is in the middle of an exciting love affair with a professional surfer. Her upstairs neighbor — Gloria lives in a pleasant but nondescript apartment complex — seems to be in the middle of a massive, very loud nervous breakdown (he also remains unseen, but not unheard). She is literally on the sidelines of a lot of much more dramatic stuff happening around her.
But Gloria is dynamic and vivacious — she lives in joy. She sings along with the radio in her car, and her love of music and dancing takes her out on the town regularly. Moore’s (Bel Canto, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) performance is a small miracle of somehow tamping down her own intense actorly charisma — Gloria is not glamorous — while still imbuing Gloria with a lively verve. It’s no wonder that so many men at the clubs she hangs out in are drawn to her… and it’s also incredibly depressing that the men all seem so much older and so colorless next to her. When she takes up with the drab Arnold (John Turturro: Landline, Exodus: Gods and Kings), is it because of any genuine attraction, or is he merely the least off-putting option on offer?
Gloria is a low-key heroine for today’s woman. She just keeps picking herself up when she gets knocked down. She is resilience personified. Her unexceptionalness is a remarkable tribute to modern womanhood… and a ringing rebuke to a cinema landscape that rarely considers a woman like Gloria worthy of having her story told. So there’s a good reason to remake her tale in a more Hollywood-friendly mode: to say that women’s lives are not niche, not arthouse, not anything other than completely normal.
• Gloria review: can you handle the truth?