Sebastian Lelio's last movie was the Oscar-winning "A Fantastic Woman," a title that also could work for his new one, "Gloria Bell."
Julianne Moore is a knockout as the title character in this inspiring remake of Lelio's Spanish-language "Gloria" – which, by the way, also could have been called "A Fantastic Woman." It's safe to say the writer/director is a fan of stories of working-class women who get knocked down but are determined to get back up again, no matter how many times they have to do it. (I'd bet big money that he is a fan of Federico Fellini's "The Nights of Cabiria," which all three films resemble.)
Gloria Bell is a California insurance adjuster, compassionate mom, joyful dancer and party animal. Lelio has given her more of a support system in "Gloria Bell" than she had in "Gloria," but there is an essential loneliness to her, a sense that she's likely to be the one who calls her friends and her adult children, not the other way around.
As we watch the many scenes of her driving alone in her car, singing at the top of her lungs to hits from the late '70s and early '80s, we get the idea that Gloria is nostalgic for a time when she was happier, so much so that she pursues a new guy (John Turturro) she meets at a dance hall, even though he may not be worthy of her.
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The movie doesn't have a traditional narrative arc – whose life does? – but all it really needs to keep us engaged is Moore, whose quicksilver emotions seem to play across her face in real time. Gloria is searching for something, and Moore makes sure we know she's doing it wholeheartedly.
Moore has lots of great scenes in "Gloria Bell," many of them little more than a close-up of the Oscar winner's face. But the most spectacular sequence comes at the end, at a wedding, when Laura Branigan's anthemic disco hit, "Gloria," comes on and the title character, who's feeling a little down, reluctantly enters the dance floor.
Initially, she joins in the undulating and arm-waving but Moore's face shows us that Gloria is not feeling it; she's obligation-dancing to please her friends. There's a brief interlude where Gloria stops moving and we can see that she's processing recent disasters in her life, perhaps trying to figure out what went wrong. But then Gloria remembers who she is, remembers that she loves to dance, remembers that it is her song that is playing, remembers that it is an incredible song, and she gives herself over to the beat with an abandon that reads to us as pure, unfiltered joy.
Lelio is not a filmmaker whose work calls attention to itself, but, if you're paying attention, his taste and precision are all over "Gloria Bell": in the guitar riff that coincides with Gloria's dance-floor entrance to "her song," in the surreal blasts of color during Gloria's trip to Las Vegas and in the brilliant decision to cast Holland Taylor to play Moore's mother. (Why has no one done this already? And could someone please hurry up and do it again in the "Grey Gardens" movie musical that we need?)
Lelio's and Moore's affection for the title character flows through every scene of "Gloria Bell," a movie that says the stories of average women deserve to be told, as do the stories of people who grapple with big challenges but still face each day with hope and wonder.
Rating: R, strong language, partial nudity and drug use.