Gloria Bell is a Total Mess

Gloria Bell (2019)
Directed by Sebastián Lelio
A24, 102 minutes, R (nudity, sex, drugs, language, terrible script)

It's not a given that a film will suck if its lead actress is also an executive producer who helps bankroll it, but in the case of Gloria Bell the odds are 100%. Do not believe any good reviews you read of this film. The only reason to see this film is if you wish to view Julianne Moore's naked body. I'll admit that she still looks fabulous at age 58, but one suspects that this is the main purpose of making this film.

Moore plays the titular role. She's is the mother of two adult children, Peter (Michael Cera) and Anne (Carin Pistorious), has been divorced for 12 years, and supports herself in a soul-sucking job in an insurance company. She's also a flirt who likes to go to bars, dance with reckless abandon, and every now and then go home with someone for some late-night extracurricular activity. Although she's too old for such moping, she also exhibits all the symptoms of an empty nest griever. Into her life comes Arnold (John Turturro), also divorced, who is at turns deeply romantic and mysterious to the point that she suspects he's still married.

Gloria rocks the glasses she wears, but they are supposed to represent her struggle with aging, as are the gray-haired men she encounters in a bar where everyone dances as if they were clubbing Millennials. (Does one have to go to LA to see men in business suits dancing in a crowded bar where no one seems to be under the age of 60?) Repeated scenes of dancing and of Gloria singing along to pop tunes while driving are two of many such devices that suggest that the script is as thin as hobo soup. Add to this characters and motives that pop up, suggest something deeper is afoot, and are then dropped with little development.

All of this is especially surprising given that Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, who also co-wrote the script, gave us the Oscar-wining 2017 masterpiece A Fantastic Woman. In Gloria Bell, he is lost on the dance floor. Julianne Moore almost rescues the film. She is, as always, luminous on screen even when what she's doing makes little sense. Ultimately, though, Gloria Bell is a mess made worse by infantilizing well… just about everyone. Cera sulks through the film, Pistorious labors through an underwritten role, and Gloria's friends–notably Vicky (Rita Wilson)–are more like wallpaper pasted into the background to give texture to what is a rather blank canvas. There is also a dinner party with Gloria's ex-husband Dustin (Brad Garrett), their kids, and his second wife Fiona (Jeanne Tripplehorn) that comes off as a contrivance to set up tension between Arnold and Gloria. Both of our principals, though, act like confused twenty-somethings with the emotional volatility to match. For heaven's sake, Gloria even needs her mommy (Holland Taylor) at a key point. So much for coming to grips with getting older! Shall I mention dumb stoner scenes, paint ball, and laughter therapy sessions?

This could have been a film about aging, failing to resolve earlier crises, being an independent woman, or knowing when to walk away. It's none of these. Although it's not yet spring, Gloria Bell is an early candidate for 2019 Turkey of Year.

Rob Weir

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