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When we first meet Gloria Bell, a divorced woman in her 50s in the film of the same name, one thing becomes swiftly evident: She’s comfortable being alone. We see a sated Gloria (Julianne Moore) seeking little more than a night out on the town where she can dance to her favorite ’80s disco music — with a partner or solo. She seems open to romantic connection — with subdued confidence, she’ll strike up conversations and cut a rug with strangers — but it’s clear that Gloria’s life will go on the next day, and the day after that, without a man.

Weathering divorce in your forties or fifties, raising kids as a single parent and navigating the dating scene can make for an existence fraught with awkward experiences, complicated situations, high highs and low lows. I know, because I’ve done it. Before entering the theater to see “Gloria Bell,” I was skeptical, thinking the movie might be another formulaic story of a struggling woman who must piece her shattered life back together after the dissolution of a marriage. I am happy to report it was nothing of the sort.

Divorce recovery, similar to recovery from other trauma, happens in stages. Many of them are messy. Seven years ago, I found out my husband was having an affair. At first, I tried to fix my marriage. I considered moving overseas to be with my husband, where he was working, and attempt a fresh start, but ultimately I realized our marriage was dead — and his new relationship was a symptom of our marital issues, not the problem itself. My ex-husband and I are both happier since parting ways.

Still, navigating the dating scene after my divorce was tricky. I encountered all sorts of men over the years. Some were still entrenched in their marriages, and some didn’t know what they were looking for in a relationship — or if they were looking for one at all. After spending more than two decades with my ex-husband, I faced the same uncertainty early in my single life. Through trial and error, I gradually reached a deeper understanding of myself and became comfortable as a single woman.

Divorced for a decade, Gloria, too, has had time to figure out the rhythm of single life, as did the mother and friends of Chilean writer-director Sebastián Lelio. The women in Lelio’s life inspired his 2013 Spanish-language film, “Gloria.” Intrigued by the stories they shared with him — about the challenges they faced and how they continued to go out, dance and celebrate life’s small moments — Lelio created the film to honor those women and others like them. The message was so powerful and universal, Moore requested a meeting with Lelio in Paris in 2015 to discuss the movie and the possibility of a U.S. remake. Over lunch, the pair came to an agreement: Lelio would direct, and Moore would play Gloria.

Julianne Moore and John Turturro in “Gloria Bell.” (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/A24)
Julianne Moore and John Turturro in “Gloria Bell.” (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/A24)

Over two decades ago, Moore, in her brilliance, breathed depth and three-dimensionality into Amber Waves, the adult-film star she played in “Boogie Nights.” She brings the same humanity to Gloria. I had to bite my lip to keep from singing along as Gloria danced or rocked out in her car to Paul McCartney’s “No More Lonely Nights” and Olivia Newton-John’s “A Little More Love.”

I am grateful that Lelio and Moore are shining a spotlight on both the struggles and satisfaction of middle-aged, post-divorce life, the periods of loneliness and euphoria that arise while figuring out what and who you love after leaving a long marriage. With some effort, a single life is by no means an empty life. In fact, it can be quite full.

Gloria, who works as an insurance agent, is the mother of a reasonably well-adjusted adult son and daughter (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius), who are preoccupied with relationships of their own. She has friends and hobbies, too; there’s enough to fill her days. But when we witness her in solitary moments following a night out dancing — removing her makeup in front of the bathroom mirror, washing her undergarments in the sink, sleeping on one side of the bed — it’s apparent that there’s space in her life for more. Enter Arnold (John Turturro), a former Marine turned amusement park owner. He’s new to divorce, trying to distance himself from a demanding ex-wife and two not-so-well-adjusted children around the same ages as Gloria’s. Following a casual meeting and night of dancing, the pair end up in bed, sparking a romance both Gloria and the audience soon suspect may be short-lived.

After a series of dings and disappointments, Gloria eventually embarks on a mission to reclaim her dignity. Reeling from one bruising rejection, she first makes matters worse, then exacts revenge in an almost comedic fashion.

Julianne Moore in “Gloria Bell.” (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/A24)
Julianne Moore in “Gloria Bell.” (Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/A24)

Like Gloria, I reclaimed my dignity just days after my husband announced he was leaving me. While he was out, I found a nightie he bought for his mistress. In a moment of uncontrollable anger, I cut up the lingerie with scissors, believing that act would make me feel better. It didn’t. Instead, I felt worse because I didn’t like who I was becoming, assuming the role of scorned wife. After telling my husband what I’d done, I went to the store and replaced the gift I destroyed. The experience was surreal, but it helped me become the woman I am today — self-aware, strong and, most importantly, resilient.

It should hardly come as a spoiler that the movie, which begins with Gloria dancing, ends with her doing the same. Yes, that part’s predictable, but it brings a certain comfort. Hearts break, but there’s beauty in knowing we can mend them, too.

Stacey Freeman is a writer, editor and single mom of three kids.

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