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Review: Gloria Bell

The trend of remaking foreign-language films in English always comes with the question of its necessity. Most of the time, it’s the result of American film studios attempting to capitalize on the proven success of a little-known movie and sell it as if it’s an original idea to an audience that hasn’t heard of it before. From The Departed to Oldboy (2013), Let Me In or more recently The Upside, the success of this transition (typically by a new director who inserts their own spin on the material) has produced varying results. When that remake is made by the same director, however, it can become an exercise in tackling a story that they’ve already told before, but as a more experienced filmmaker with a greater understanding of the medium.

Gloria Bell is largely a direct translation of the foreign original but it does lose some of its lustre in the process

Directed by Sebastian Lelio (Academy Award-winning director of Best Foreign-Language Film for A Fantastic Woman) Gloria Bell is the English-language remake of his 2013 Chilean original Gloria. In both versions of the story, we follow Gloria (played here by Julianne Moore), a middle-aged divorcee of 12 years, throughout her fairly mundane day-to-day life. She sings along with the radio on her commutes to work, she helps her son (Michael Cera) raise his newborn baby, then dances her troubles away at the local nightclubs. One night, she meets a recently divorced man (played by John Turturro) that she begins to strike up a connection with, and we then proceed to watch Gloria’s life unfold as she learns to start again with someone new, face the obstacles of her new relationship, but ultimately learn to love herself in the process.

For a film with such a simplistic slice-of-life premise, the most important element in holding together what is essentially a rather uneventful story is the central performance of Julianne Moore as Gloria. While Gloria was played very well by Paulina Garcia in the original, Moore manages to bring much more warmth and relatability to the character, which ultimately ends up making her journey and her performance struggles all the more sympathetic and investing. There’s a greater sincerity to the manner in which she approaches both Gloria’s youthful energy and her maternal nature, allowing her to show emotional vulnerability in moments such as when she has to see daughter off as she boards a plane to Sweden, yet also let loose on the dance floor like she’s not a day over 21. Her joyous optimism within the midst of everything that she is dealing with makes her a truly endearing protagonist to root for.

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As far as being an American remake is concerned, Gloria Bell, while still an enjoyable film in its own respect, and in some ways an improvement, does lose its luster in comparison to the original. Stylistically and structurally, this film’s approach is essentially identical to the original, which is unsurprising considering that both films had the same director. The only adjustments made from the original are that trims down some of the fat in its pacing, and the slight expansions of one or two subplots.

While Lelio directed both films, the adapted screenplay for Gloria Bell was written by Alice Johnson Boher, whose influence can mostly be credited for giving the story a much more distinctly feminine perspective than Lelio explored in his original screenplay. In this respect, the remake is able to validate its existence by presenting new depths to discover, while at the same time remaining enormously faithful to the structure and progression of the original, if almost to a fault.

The remake adds a coworker friend of Gloria’s who is in danger of losing her job, that she ends up bonding with during her hardship. It also includes more substantive scenes between Gloria and her mother, and with her daughter, which help strengthen their motherly connections to each other. While these scenes don’t necessarily take up a large amount of screen time, they do add slightly extra layers of female unity and empowerment, as well as touch upon the additional obstacles that women over a certain age face.

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Throughout all of Gloria’s misadventures to try to find herself, and all of the heartbreak that comes with it, she finds herself back on the dance floor once again when she hears Laura Branigan’s hit 80’s song “Gloria”. As the song plays, she quietly mouths along to the lyrics, almost as if the song is specifically talking to her. “Gloria, you’re always on the run now, running after somebody…I think you’re headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it.” A man approaches her and asks if she’d like to dance, she smiles and politely declines. She then steps out onto the dance floor, putting all of her worries aside and dances her troubles away like nobody’s watching, except that they are, and they’re cheering her on every step of the way.

For as fairly mundane and unflashy as the story has been so far, it is that moment where we finally see her pick herself up, leave all of her worries behind, and let loose to an upbeat power anthem as neon pink and purple lights radiate her joyous smile, that makes the entire film and Gloria’s arc really hit home. Even though she’s essentially back where she started there’s an uplifting feeling that she’s finally fulfilled in a way that she hasn’t been before, which is really all that any of us can aspire to hope for.  

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Review: Gloria Bell
Gloria Bell offers up nothing especially extravagant but gets by on the warmth and relatability Julianne Moore brings to the title role

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