Flawed and disingenuous
Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria Bell is a film that is both flawed and disingenuous. Absolutely, none of its flaws has anything to do with Julianne Moore. I can’t put into words exactly why I understand her instant attachment to the script but I do. The outcome, however, was a messy painting a first grader could have done better.
It’s very disappointing to be writing this review because I was very excited to see Gloria Bell but the trailer made Gloria Bell look like something it’s not: Fun. Gloria Bell is not a fun film. I am the most tolerant person you can meet when it comes to films that are both not fun and very slow. Independent drama’s often are and if the material is good enough, I love it when films are slow and not fun. What I don’t love is false advertising. If the movie is a calm wave don’t market it as a surfer’s dream come true. Be a mature adult and market it like it is. It’ll find its target audience.
Gloria Bell follows the title character, (Julianne Moore) a divorced woman for twelve years who enjoys going out to clubs at night and dancing. I wouldn't say she feels like she’s not enough but she is someone who can acknowledge her loneliness. Why wouldn't she be lonely? Her kids (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius) are all grown up and have their own lives. Her ex-husband (Brad Garrett) has moved on and she’s alone.
She soon meets Arnold (John Turturro) a recently divorced man whose two daughters and supposed ex-wife depend on him for everything. He immediately falls for Gloria’s good nature and the two begin a relationship. It starts off pretty good. The two go dancing, play paintball and read poetry. This romantic bliss is disrupted almost immediately by Arnold’s pathetic emotional weaknesses. I think that if you have a family that has emotionally drained you, you should try and pull yourself out of it over time but you don’t drag other people who have their own problems into it.
Gloria is definitely that person who puts herself last. Whether it’s her kids, her neighbor, her co-worker, or her crazy looking cat she’ll tend to everybody else's needs and try to make everyone else feel better. In other words, she tries to make lemonade out of lemons which while corny perfectly describes Gloria.
It also explains why she’s so drawn to Arnold. She likes helping people but not everyone is appreciative. She does have some close relationships. She’s very close with her daughter but she doesn't see her as often as she’d like to. Her daughter wants adventure in her life and Gloria encourages her to go off and find it. Given her loneliness, you’d think she’d persuade her to stay close by. She doesn't do this and audiences will respect her all the more for it.
The day to day normalcy of Gloria’s life is what makes the film so flat. Lots of films are about normal day to day events but intense and interesting family dynamics are incorporated into them. It’s as though films are bees and good writing is nectar from a flower. Gloria Bell is a busy little bee but she’s only one bee and the flower doesn't have enough nectar to make the film interesting.
Julianne Moore is a shining star as Gloria but she’s not a star bright enough. There are so many other stars in the sky, of course, poor Gloria will be left out. Because the script is so flat, Moore could not give more than the film would allow her too. All the other performances were lazy and boring but as an audience, you can see Moore’s effort because you see her struggling. Gloria struggling is Moore struggling to give it more life but she can’t. The script is dead. Lelio stabbed it in the heart by writing it the way he did and not even Moore could bring it back to life.
Overall, Gloria Bell is like a massively heavy rock and Julianne Moore is the one who tries so hard but ultimately fails to pick it up. I truly thought it was going to be a film about self-discovery. You’re never too young or too old to learn something new about yourself. It’s only when we do, that we all (As Gloria puts it) go down dancing. Gloria Bell will not make you go down dancing. It will make you squirm in your seat. Again, I have strong patience for slow films but most people don’t and even if you do, you have to care about the characters. As big a Julianne Moore fan as I am, I didn't care one bit for Gloria Bell or her problems. Fortunately, for her, she has The Woman In The Window coming out this October so 2019 will not be a year of failure for her.
If you’re considering seeing Gloria Bell, I recommend you have a nice relaxing evening at home, with a bowl of popcorn, maybe some wine and watch 20th Century Woman. Now that was an independent family drama you’ll care about.