Sebastian Lelio returned to TIFF this year after the one-two punch in 2017 of “A Fantastic Woman” and “Disobedience” and he brought something special. Yes, “Gloria Bell” is nearly a note-for-note remake of Lelio’s own very good “Gloria,” but he said in the intro that he wanted to make it to give Julianne Moore this character and this platform. And that instinct was the correct one as a woman Lelio introduced as a Queen reminds us why she’s earned that title. She is simply perfect throughout “Gloria Bell,” embracing this all-too-rare genre of character study about a woman “of a certain age” just trying to navigate her daily existence. It’s a remarkably enjoyable movie, downright cathartic in its presentation of a three-dimensional character who feels like she exists before the movie starts and will continue after, dancing through the night.
Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) likes to dance. We meet her at a bar, the camera sneaking up on her from behind as she bobs her shoulders to some disco and waits for the right partner. She’s a divorcee whose kids have reached that age during which they’re forming their own lives. Her son (Michael Cera) has a new baby; her daughter (Caren Pistorius) has a growing Yoga practice and a surfer boyfriend. Gloria works a relatively thankless insurance job—although the way she handles it does hint at her genuine empathy for other people—and spends her nights riding the bar at a club that seems to be populated by people of her generation, drinking martinis and dancing to disco.
One night, she catches the eye of a recently divorced man named Arnold (John Turturro), and he’s understandably captivated by Gloria. The two form a quick relationship, but there are hints of cracks in Gloria’s life as she seems to be moving towards romance. There’s an upstairs neighbor who makes too much noise, a cat who keeps finding its way into her apartment, and potential health issues for a woman who sings along to sad disco songs in her car. And Arnold doesn’t seem quite ready to date yet, unable to tell his daughters about his new girlfriend.
If this sounds like a simple story, you’re not wrong. Gloria is a relatively average woman—and that ordinary nature of her character will frustrate some viewers looking for twists or high-concept hooks. For this viewer, a rich, three-dimensional female lead is thrilling, especially when embodied by one of the best actresses alive. You can tell that Moore (who is in every scene) and Lelio have considered every aspect of Gloria’s life, from her relationships with her children to her ex (memorably played in one scene by Brad Garrett) to her mother to her co-workers to her new beau. It is a flat-out showcase for Moore, and it’s simply invigorating to see an actress of her caliber capture a character so memorably. To be fair, the supporting cast is solid, especially Turturro, and Lelio’s got a directorial hand that’s not flashy but confident. He trusts Moore and knows that she will use the various beats of his creation to her full advantage.
Some will question the logic of Lelio remaking his own film this quickly, but there's so much vitality in every frame of “Gloria Bell” that the redundancy faded away with every disco song that our heroine loved. She’s one of the most unforgettable characters of 2018, and I wish that film more often provided more space for people like her.