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« TIFF Delivers an Oscar bound-surprise with "Green Book" | Main | Women on the Verge at TIFF: abandoned wives, kindergarten teachers, and activists »
Sunday
Sep162018

TIFF Review: "Gloria Bell"

by Chris Feil

Naturally, English language remakes of already great (and recent, at that) foreign language treasures are a dubious business. But Sebastián Lelio’s revisiting of his own Gloria, formery led by the immaculate Paulina García, presents a convincing alternative to other misguided or less effective attempts. Now titled Gloria Bell and starring Julianne Moore, this version is one not only worthy of its predecessor, but an equal that may even edge it out ever so slightly...

For the unfamiliar, the film follows long-time divorcee Gloria as her resolve is tested in the trials of love. Alone in Los Angeles, she spends time between her uneventful job and visits with her adult children by dancing in bars and singing in cars. Gloria is looking for love and finds a new suitor in Arnold (John Turturro), a man more recently divorced and not as detached. As their relationship develops, we watch as all fragments of Gloria’s life are given equal significance to reveal her pathos - dealing with tumultuous neighbors, the odd toke of pot, and that cat that won’t stay out of her house.

This transplanting to an American setting could somewhat be considered a glow up, taking advantage of the opportunity by developing a more distinct visual identity. Here the film’s cascading neons reflect the heroine’s emotional landscape more deeply, even if the Los Angeles environment is less informative for the character. But there is a more decisive and assured hand to Lelio’s storytelling, a slightly leaner take that still maintains the original’s uplift and depth of feeling. While the fact that precious little has changed (right down to some shots being recreated outright), our fears of something less inspired fades quickly into the film’s haze of disco-tinged compassion.

Lelio keeps this character study warm and curious, resulting in a film that doesn’t overplay her melancholy or reduce her brushes with awkwardness to mocking laughter. When we laugh at her earnestness, we do so because Lelio invites us to see ourselves in Gloria, our own ailing spirits mundanely searching for some source of renewal. The film is designed to make Gloria an audience surrogate, but through specificity rather than the vague tactics of lesser crowdpleasers. When she triumphs, the film builds to something euphoric.

Bell is a balm, and in great part because we get to see one of our greatest actresses operating brilliantly in a different mode and without breaking a sweat. Though the film lacks the sense of discovery we had when Paulina García came into our hearts, it does have some added undercurrent of excitement to see Julianne Moore flex her (underrated, to this viewer) comedic muscles. Moore is as comprehensive in characterization as ever and also as subtle, crafting a complete person before our eyes that we feel exists outside the film’s limits. Much as the film succeeds by not overplaying its hand until she explodes, the actress keeps us invested in every micronuance in her reactions by finding honesty in the everyday - she's still the best show in town. Bonus points for dance moves.

Gloria Bell answers the “why?” grumbles with an offhand “why not?”, allowing both versions to exist and delight us tremendously and provide a complex portrait of a woman most films would find uncomplicated. No film has ever used “Total Eclipse of the Heart” as well as this, so there’s also that.

Grade: B+

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Reader Comments (12)

Love her as an actress.

September 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterrdf

We have our first candidate for Best Actress in the 2019 race.

September 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMichael R

I was waiting for this review since Toronto first screening - and raves - one week ago. So happy to hear that Julianne is in a great lead role again four years after Still Alice and Maps to the Stars.

September 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterFerdi

I love Turturro as well as Moore so am enthused about seeing them together. (Of course they costarred in The Big Lebowski but don't share any scenes.) It seems so many great films came out of this TIFF, exciting!

September 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

It should have been Annette Bening. Julianne is totally miscasted. She looks too amazing for the role. How can you have a mid-life crisis looking like that?

September 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Can't believe it's been 4 years since her Oscar. The roles were a bit spotty between now and then. Can't wait to see this.

September 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

Thrilled for this. After such an incredible 2014/2015 (Two great and very different performances! An Oscar! Best Actress at Cannes!) it's been pretty spotty. There have been some minor delights--I enjoyed Maggie's Plan and Wonderstruck and her in them--but nothing that's really been a great showcase for her. Really excited to see her in something that promises to be really good. This sounds like a great role for her.

September 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

Peggy is right but at least they didn't cast Elle Fanning

September 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDaya

@Peggy Sue
But Bening also looks amazing for her age!

September 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEd

Very excited for this. I had all these red flags initially but it seems like everyone who's seen it has mostly loved it and anytime Julianne takes on something worthwhile, I'm always down.

September 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Ed - Oh, c'mon! You know what I meant!

September 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I should have been Gloria Bell*.

*What a stupid title

September 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa Leo

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