Gloria Bell | Sebastian Lelio | March 8, 2019 (limited)
When it comes to domestic remakes of international films, I frequently wonder “Was this necessary?” Recent examples include The Upside, Miss Bala and Cold Pursuit. While I didn’t see the original Mexican and Norwegian films (still halfway or so into In Order of Disappearance, frankly), the question lingered in my mind looking at the marketing ahead of all three films and after seeing both The Upside and Miss Bala. Now comes Gloria Bell and, much like Cold Pursuit, the original director – Sebastian Lelio, in this case – returned for this film.
Gloria Bell, Sebastian Lelio’s remake of his own 2013 Chilean film Gloria, follows the eponymous middle-aged 12-year divorcee and insurance executive (Julianne Moore) living her best life. She’s a concerned (but not overbearing) mother to 20/30-somethings Peter (Michael Cera) and Anne (Caren Pistorius), still on good terms with her ex-husband Dustin (Brad Garrett) and his new wife Fiona (Jeanne Tripplehorn), and friendly with another couple (Chris Mulkey and Rita Wilson) and a stressed co-worker (12 Monkeys‘ Barbara Sukowa). And she goes out dancing to a baby boomer club frequently, meeting and striking up a relationship with Arnold (John Turturro), a recent divorcee and amateur adventure park owner (paintball, bungee-like activities). It’s when their families enter the picture that the minor drama begins.
Returning to the film is recent Lelio collaborator and composer Matthew Herbert, who also composed the scores for A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience. His uplifting and slightly synth-y cues fit the independent and slightly eccentric character of Gloria and couple well with the 70s/80s pop-disco-easy listening soundtrack – including Olivia Newton John’s “A Little More Love”, Paul McCartney’s “No More Lonely Nights”, and (of course) Laura Branigan’s “Gloria”. The musical elements lay the ground for a feel-good tone throughout, even with the drama in the background.
Gloria Bell wanders from moment to moment with a freewheeling nature over an hour and 40 minutes (or thereabouts). What glimpse into Gloria’s life are we going to see next? The concerned mom doting over her children and grandkid, lunching with her mom (Holland Taylor), or calling up her landlord because the upstairs neighbor (the landlord’s 20/30-something son) is angry and ranting at all hours of the night? The insurance agent sharing a supportive smoke with her coworker bestie? Various dates (some with tender moments and some with passive-aggressive arguments) with Arnold? No matter what, based on the nature of the film itself, you have an idea of how things will play out.
These 50-something middle-aged movies where the lead character finds themselves tend to follow a formula of sorts. However, by injecting some realism and drama to the situation (perhaps aided by the fact it’s an A24 release), in addition to cementing Gloria as a complex character who knows what she wants, it skirts what would normally be predictable and at times cloying or trope-y. And, by the end, it all builds to a perfectly underscored cheer-worthy scene that I’d rather not spoil. That is the joy of Gloria Bell.
And as for the starting question of whether the remake was necessary, the answer is a little murky. Yes, remakes can be frustrating when moments don’t always land well and when the original writers and directors aren’t involved, but given the broader reach an American remake has in domestic theaters (and Lelio’s directing and co-writing), Gloria Bell is one remake that’s a good choice.