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Soundtracking: Gloria Bell

by Chris Feil

For everywoman Gloria Bell, you are what you listen to. In this retelling, as it was with his Chilean original starring Paulina García, Sebastián Lelio places his eponymous hero in a headspace where music is all around. This time it is Julianne Moore who frequents dance clubs with bisexual lighting and sings in her car as if no one is watching. But the film succeeds through the audience’s musical voyeurism of watching such vulnerable moments, all of them stitched together into the broader canvas that is her life.

Lelio curates a batch of upbeat standards of adult contemporary radio, many of them overly familiar but here they provide specific texture...

As a collection of romantically tinged tunes of a certain era, it reflects Gloria’s search for love and sustained optimism through the process of aging. And with this bright soundtrack constantly playing, it also reminds us that such explorations need not be limited to the grimmer stuff of darker movies. Lelio’s musical sensibility is a soulful one, keeping the film a feel-good experience but also a grounded one.

Those car ride singalongs especially feel like we’re seeing something private. It’s the kind of moment we laugh at on impulse. We catch a glimpse of a fellow driver wailing to their radio, and it’s cringey because we’ve all done it and would crumble if caught in the act. We may chuckle at her display, but the film’s embrace doesn’t make our laughter at her expense. Like the uplifting sway of her music tastes, in these moments the film is also inviting us to take ourselves a little less seriously.

At the same time, this nakedness matches how falling in love leaves us exposed. The songs Gloria sings along to - Olivia Newton John’s “A Little More Love”, Air Supply’s “All Out of Love” - speak to that romantic vulnerability. If the whole movie is about letting go of feeling silly, or feeling insufficient, these are the scenes that tell us how fun that process can be. It’s later when Gloria stops singing along that she feels less herself, with Matthew Herbert’s score remaining beautifully attuned to the interiority of Moore’s emotions.

However, the most glorious of exorcism comes when she gets her musical comeuppance with her heartbreaker boyfriend, John Turturro’s Arnold. Lelio stages her paintball gun attack on him to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, simply one of the most genius song choices in recent years. The song is legendary for its high key drama, the peaks and valleys of its emotion - it’s the kind of song we all have sang with abandon in the non-privacy of our cars. The song crests as she takes action against Arnold, announcing her worth in the process.

She cathartically laughs it off, but what next? With her feelings laid so bare, it feels as if collapse or reclaiming her optimism could go either way. Here is where her signature song arrives, Laura Branigan’s “Gloria”, as if a seismic piece of self-actualization in name and sound. A musical direct lift from the original film, we watch her as she begins to dance again, choosing positivity before our eyes and in real time. Spinning, laughing into her future.

All Soundtracking installments can be found here!

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Reader Comments (11)

It's interesting—the original Gloria used "Gloria," the Umberto Tozzi version.

The lyrics to the Branigan version (not just translated, but completely rewritten for her) fit the character infinitely better. Or, at least, they give you a powerful thesis for understanding Moore's specific Gloria Bell.

There are moments in the movie where you want to pity her, or worry about her. But the truth is she takes big risks in life and owns it. Sometimes they don't pay off. She's such a force that she cuts her losses and leaves them behind. You almost never see characters like that.

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

Julianne Moore is just fine, but I prefer Pauline Garcia. Garcia is plainer looking, and that raises the stakes when things go wrong. She won't have her attractiveness to fall back on. The real revelation is John Turturro. Who ever thought he had this performance in him? I just hope he's still in the conversation come October/November when awards talk heats up.

Also, I agree that the Laura Branigan version of Gloria is a much better fit. So a propos you'd almost think it'd been written specifically for the film.

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterken s

Moore was so perfect in this. Glad to see that the film is doing well in limited release.

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

Laura Branigan's Gloria is a perfect pop song. And to see Julianne Moore waltzing off this movie to this tune is one of the highest highs I've ever had leaving the theater. Sublime.

Also, this timeless song was put to good use in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I also prefer the Umberto Tozzi version of the song thanks in part to The Wolf of Wall Street as when I heard it. I was like "what the fuck?" in an amused way and oh man, it got more insane as the usage of that song was fitting. I also heard in it in the original version of the film though I wouldn't mind seeing this remake. Plus, how can anyone not love Julianne Moore?

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

My dog is named Gloria! I wish she could understand she's being sung about in the Branigan version (or any of the many other songs named "Gloria"!)

The rewritten lyrics always seem kind of sinister and mean ("if everybody wants you, why isn't anybody calling?"), whereas I believe the original lyrics are written as if sung by an admirer. I think this works really well in the original, where the admirer is we the audience. Haven't seen the Julianne Moore version yet, unfortunately.

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMarsha Mason

Loved the soundtrack to this, especially “Gloria”!

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge P.

I think she’ll be remembered come Oscar time. Easily her most raved about performance since Still Alice. And the film is finding an audience in limited release. Hope everyone remembers Turturro as well.

March 27, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

The musical cues were so on the nose, but every one of them worked, especially the finale. So so so happy she has an Oscar, and I can only hope we'll get more joy from her for years to come.

March 28, 2019 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Turturro has Woody Allen’s vote.

March 28, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterN4get

I love this feature and love Chris Feil.

March 31, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

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