Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Gloria Bell, a middle-aged middle manager at a middle-size insurance company, lives in Los Angeles, although you would barely know it from the movie bearing her name. The L.A. of “Gloria Bell” isn’t the one of palm trees, beaches and invidious glamour shots, but the featureless sprawl that tends to be overlooked in glossy layouts and Hollywood fantasies. Against this aggressively neutral backdrop, Gloria — divorced, with two grown children and a modest apartment — tries to inject color and fun and sex into a life that, according to the world at large, is no longer worthy of such indulgences.
The Chilean director Sebastián Lelio adapted “Gloria Bell” from his 2013 movie “Gloria,” which starred Paulina García as the quietly triumphant title character. (Lelio has since made “A Fantastic Woman” and “Disobedience.”) Here, he re-creates the film almost shot for shot with Julianne Moore as his muse, putting her in a pair of owlish eyeglasses and emphasizing her natural, unforced beauty. Gloria Bell likes to dance, showing up at various clubs to sway alone to the oldies — songs that would have fit right into “Boogie Nights,” in which Moore had a breakout role as adult film actress Amber Waves. Even at her most self-effacing and sweetly optimistic, Gloria has little bits of Amber in her, as the audience discovers once she meets Arnold (John Turturro) and explores the pitfalls and pratfalls of late-in-life dating.
Supported by terrific performances from Michael Cera (as Gloria’s son, going through his own marital troubles), Brad Garrett (as her maybe-still-besotted ex) and Holland Taylor (as her worried mother), Moore delivers a fearless, unshowy performance as a woman fighting fears of loneliness, poverty and undesirability, and persevering in her relentless pursuit of happiness. If that quest teeters on the brink of self-destructiveness, no matter: Lelio makes sure that his leading lady is never presented as pathetic or worthy of pity, but instead as a heroine worthy of admiration and respect.
Some early reviews of “Gloria Bell” have called it hilarious, but the comedy is far more subtle and elusive than laugh-out-loud. It’s a reflective, even occasionally tedious slice of daily life that relies on Moore to sell its dullest interludes — sequences that aren’t made any livelier by Lelio’s parched, washed-out visual design. The action in “Gloria Bell” is all interior, as the title character embarks on successive journeys that tap into discovery, disappointment, vulnerability and her steadfast insistence on self-expression. Not much happens in “Gloria Bell” other than someone staking her claim to joy. It’s a quiet little movie that speaks the truth like a clarion call.
R. At area theaters. Contains sexuality, nudity, strong language and some drug use. 101 minutes.