Starring Julianne Moore. Rated 14A
Julianne Moore lets down her hair but rarely takes off her glasses as Gloria Bell’s antihero, a middle-aged empty-nester who relieves the tedium of her insurance job by hooking up with well-dressed randos at a SoCal disco. When she finally meets a more serious fella, things go better. Until they don’t.
If this fairly comprehensive synopsis sounds familiar, that’s because you caught it in 2013’s Gloria, a Chilean effort that won multiple prizes for star Pauline García and writer-director Sebastián Lelio. Four years later, the latter grabbed an Oscar and more for A Fantastic Woman, and then had something of a dud with Disobedience.
Foreign directors don’t usually tackle English-language remakes of their own breakthrough films, so Lelio surely thought he could bring something special to one that trades local specificity—invoking his nation’s tortured history—for bankable Hollywood stars. But it’s hard to see the advantage here, other than the smooth shooting and the chance it gives for A-list actors to do some downbeat stuff.
This Gloria doesn’t seem to care about much, other than the soft-rock classics she sings along with, badly, on the car radio. She nags her grown kids, leaving long messages on their phones, always followed by an egregious “It’s your mother”—something that manages to be both funny and condescending.
When we meet said offspring, played by Michael Cera and impressive up-and-comer Caren Pistorious, they turn out to be fairly substantial people. Gloria’s mother (Holland Taylor), her ex-husband and his new mate (Brad Garrett and Jeanne Tripplehorne), and her own close friends (including Rita Wilson and Barbara Sukowa) all gesture at subplots inherently more interesting than the foreground story. This rests, rather grindingly, on her sputtering affair with someone—played, more soulfully than the man deserves, by John Turturro—who’s just a collection of complaints and prevarications.
The problem, which marks all his movies, is that Lelio clearly cares about his characters, and actors, but can’t quite be bothered to fit them into fully convincing narratives. So viewers end up with underserved psychology and overcooked melodrama, giving the proceedings a soapy feel. Anyway, Laura Branigan already nailed it in her title song: “I think you’ve got to slow down, before you start to blow it/You’re headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it.” Not exactly Mary Tyler Moore, Moore!