A free-spirited divorcee spends her nights on the dance floor, joyfully letting loose at clubs around Los Angeles. She soon finds herself thrust into an unexpected new romance, filled with the joys of budding love and the complications of dating.
Initial release: March 8, 2019 (USA)
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Distributed by: A24
Production company: FilmNation Entertainment
Screenplay: Sebastián Lelio
Film synopsis :
Director Sebastián Lelio made history at the 2018 Academy Awards when he brought Chile its first ever Best Foreign Language Film prize. Though the movie he won it for, A Fantastic Woman, almost seems like it could be the title of his entire oeuvre: Again and again, he bathes his female subjects — from the dancing divorcée in 2013’s Gloria to Fantastic’s trans nightclub singer to the Orthodox lesbian lovers in last year’s Disobedience — in a kind of tender, full-fledged humanity that other auteurs, let alone mainstream Hollywood, rarely touches.
|Directed by||Sebastián Lelio|
|Screenplay by||Alice Johnson Boher|
|Story by||Sebastián Lelio|
|Music by||Matthew Herbert|
|Edited by||Soledad Salfate|
Sebastián Lelio’s “Gloria Bell” is the second film this year to end with the Laura Branigan song “Gloria” — the kind of high-energy empowerment anthem that recasts its leading lady in a different light — the other being Netflix’s recent Gloria Allred docu “Seeing Allred.” Speaking of recasting leading ladies, it also happens to be the second of Lelio’s films to close with that song, although there’s a perfectly good explanation for that: “Gloria Bell” is a nearly scene-for-scene remake of the “A Fantastic Woman” director’s 2013 single-woman drama, this time in English and featuring Julianne Moore in the role that earned Paulina García the Berlin Film Festival’s best actress prize.
Many were skeptical when the project was announced, much as they were to the news that Jack Nicholson might star in an American version of “Toni Erdmann,” and yet Moore insisted in this case that if she were to play the role, Lelio must agree to direct. And so we get a film that shares the original’s generous view of the title character — of all its characters, really — along with a great many of its creative choices. But even with the same director and nearly the same script, “Gloria” and “Gloria Bell” are hardly the same movie, in the way that no two stagings of “Hamlet” can be the same when cast with different leading men. And it’s easy to imagine audiences who showed no interest in a Spanish-language version of this story responding to what Moore does with the role when A24 releases it next spring.
That’s true of not just Gloria but also fellow divorcé Arnold (John Turturro), a paintball enthusiast who picks her up at the club one night, enjoys a tender connection back at her place (there is sex, though Lelio recognizes that the afterglow is more meaningful for both of them), and shyly calls her up a few days later, after wrestling with the question of whether he deserves to feel the emotions she awakens in him. Moore is great in the movie, uncovering — and sharing — all sorts of new facets to Gloria’s character, but Turturro is a revelation, taking what was always a frustrating role (Arnold’s still too attached to his needy ex-wife and daughters, who are constantly calling him, and it’s a drag to watch Gloria competing for his attention) and recognizing what that character is feeling as well.
But even if Turturro finds soul in the male part, “Gloria Bell” remains one of the great female-led films of the 21st century, passing the Bechdel test with flying colors — which explains why Moore would be so keen to remake it. The actress’s fan base loves when she goes slightly over the top, gnashing her teeth at the pharmacy counter in “Magnolia” or bowling in a Valkyrie costume in “The Big Lebowski,” but she’s a master of subtlety as well, and here, the challenge is to see ourselves in a character who prefers to blend in. Even at the club, she’s a bit of a wallflower (though it’s interesting that Gloria is nearly always the one to initiate contact with others), though Lelio adds a few nice scenes at work and home (where a neighbor’s hairless cat keeps showing up uninvited) while still managing to deliver a film that’s eight minutes shorter overall.
Although García and Moore were born in the same year (under the same sign!), Lelio is more mature now than he was when he made the original film, and he brings that experience to the project in small but crucial ways, namely by shifting ever so slightly the points when audiences are invited to laugh, more often directed at other characters than at Gloria herself. Meanwhile, he treats quiet, private glimpses into her life — singing to outdated pop songs in the car, hand-washing her undergarments in the sink — with what’s best described as dignity.
The same goes for the nude scenes, which hardly feel as revealing as the places Moore goes to explore Gloria’s insecurities and later, the strength she finds to be independent. The character’s look (she wears two pairs of oversize spectacles, one red, the other blue) has been toned down somewhat, as has the film’s overall style — still elegant yet not nearly so surface-oriented, replacing the nightclub gloss of the original with a warmer pastel glow from “The Neon Demon” DP Natasha Braier (who could certainly have outdone the original in the other direction, if Lelio had wanted it).
A remake like this is something of an anomaly, but it would be fascinating to explore the character with other actresses in additional countries — say, Cate Blanchett in “Gloria Down Under” or Isabelle Huppert in “Gloria de France” — with each new “cover” undoubtedly finding fresh notes.