‘Coming of middle age’ tales are rare. Normally, we follow a more youthful character on a journey of self-discovery to (hopefully) enlightenment at the end. Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s 2013 Gloria starring the delightful Paulina Garcia in the title role has had a Hollywood A-lister makeover. Fans of the Spanish original might be asking why, as Garcia epitomises the ordinary single woman in the Fall of her adult life, reliving the dating and relationship pitfalls of bygone years.
Except Lelio has been extremely thoughtful about the casting for his American remake. Even though the new film pretty much follows the same narrative as the former, it is Julianne Moore as Gloria Bell who manages to silence the cynics.
Moore cannot – and does not – hide her film-star looks but bringing her usual sensitivity to a role and beguiling sexuality, she subtly and effortlessly down-plays a woman fighting daily for peace, happiness and recognition in a world obsessed by beauty and youth.
John Turturro as the love interest is equally self-depreciating and humble in the role of Arnold, a flawed individual, both mentally and psychologically. Arnold is also looking for a reawakening in later life while dealing with the constraints of family baggage. Moore and Turturro are magical to watch as they explore the many facets of their characters’ moods, culminating at one point in a poetry reading scene (a snippet seen in the trailer) that can only be described as their ‘climax’.
This film absolutely resonates with an older viewer, but there is a lot to be taken away regardless of age while living Gloria’s experiences with her. We back her all the way because she seems fearless and open to new experiences, feeling her joy when the music starts and her pain in the cold light of day. We need for her to succeed, to give us hope of adventure in later life. Lelio wants us not to fear aging but to celebrate it, something that comes more naturally in other cultures – and an irony not lost with this remake in youth-obsessed Hollywood.
Like Garcia, Moore does not allow Gloria to become a caricature: there is only the mildest dose of melodrama, more from the peripheral characters, even in the most emotional of scenes, and no more than in real life. In fact, this film’s docu-drama quality is evident, and as a well-acted character-driven piece, it holds the attention due to its acting royalty.
But perhaps this natural breathing space that allows for the central character’s development might just be an Achilles Heel for the 2018 Hollywood version. Gloria (2013) and Moore fans aside, you could ask exactly what else does this film offers to make you part with your cash at the cinema – delightful as it might be to savor Gloria’s poignant journey?
There are also subplots that appear to go nowhere, the likes of which oddly enhanced the 2013 film’s arc. There seems to be something ‘lost in translation’ which is a shame. There is a reason Shirley Valentine (1989) won Brits over, just like Gloria did for Spanish audiences in 2013. Both tapped into cultural references, using humour in varying measures and hence strengthening the cultural narrative.
Still, the struggles and adventures are universal and the desire to champion a ‘coming of middle age’ tale, combined with Moore’s exquisite performance means Gloria Bell is not without its unique qualities and charm. Indeed Lelio’s next Hollywood venture might be as exciting as meeting Gloria for the first time.