Written by: Patrick Howard
Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, 2019) 3½ out of 4 stars.
Julianne Moore continues to be a shining testament both to her craft and entire generation in Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria Bell. Much akin to Jean Luc-Godard’s Breathless and Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, Gloria Bell is a modern self-portrait of a woman who is desperately looking for a way out of the all too familiar, dead-end rut we have all fallen into at some point in our lives. Gloria wakes up, goes to her uneventful job as an insurance saleswoman, fails to connect with her grown children, tries to find love at the local dance club, and then goes back to her apartment and tries to fall asleep while her upstairs neighbor has his nightly mental breakdown.
If you thought my break down of Gloria Bell’s life was uninspired, then try walking in her shoes for a day. Sebastian Lelio and cinematographer Natasha Braier have crafted a hypnotic and frustratingly repetitious nightmare from which there is no escape. Every beat of Gloria’s life—the dance club, her work, and her children—clearly drains a drop of her soul, but against all signs and advice from the people in her life, she still falls in line as expected. Julianne Moore’s performance is nothing short of brilliantly nuanced and unapologetically “you.”
And by “you,” I mean, we are all Gloria. Whether it was yesterday, today, or next Tuesday, we continue to fall victim to the routine activities and the problematic individuals that leech off us with zero remorse. However, there are moments when we think things are about to change for the better. Gloria certainly thinks so when she falls for John Turturro’s Arnold one night at the dance club. At first sight, Arnold seems like the perfect lost soul for Gloria. She takes a leap of faith and quickly entangles her life with a man who is admittedly in rougher shape than her.
Far be it for me to try to separate Julianne Moore from Gloria Bell. She effortlessly embodies a painfully relatable mood of complicity that creates a wonderfully frustrating and real character. No matter the number of missteps Gloria makes to push her love life on track, and against my better judgment as a rational human being, I still wanted to stand by her side.
Often the film feels unsure when to transition from scene to scene, which undermines whatever emotional payoff was set up from the beginning. Gloria Bell’s interactions with minor characters don’t suffer from this rough cutting as much as the scenes of her and Arnold’s sizzling mid-life romance. Sebastian Lelio has given us a slice-of-life movie more challenging than most of the entries of its genre. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. But I wonder if you’ll take the risk to decide how similar your life compares to Gloria’s.