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When filmmakers from outside the Anglosphere recycle their earlier work into English-language remakes, the results are often disastrous. But Chilean writer-director Sebastian Lelio continues his winning streak with Gloria Bell, a joyously bittersweet reboot of his 2013 Spanish-language prizewinner Gloria, which is graced by a finely etched and vanity-free lead performance by Julianne Moore.
Lelio and Moore honor the original film without slavishly re-creating it. Crucially, like its predecessor, Gloria Bell maintains a warm but rigorously unsentimental tone despite material that could easily lend itself to mawkish soap opera. The setting may have moved from Santiago to Los Angeles, but the story has not been Hollywoodized. World premiering in Toronto this week, this classy remake is scheduled for U.S. release by A24 early next year. Moore’s star power and Lelio’s high standing following last year’s much loved Oscar winner A Fantastic Woman should add up to healthy box-office interest.
Gloria (Moore) is a lonely divorcee on the cusp of 60, with a mundane office job and two adult children whom she barely sees. Her modest home life is routinely disturbed by her mentally unstable neighbor, whose hairless cat has adopted Gloria as surrogate owner, while her social life mostly takes place on the dance floors of nightclubs frequented by fellow middle-age singles.
One night at her regular club, Gloria meets Arnold (John Turturro), a shy divorcee with a similar backstory. A tentative relationship starts to develop between them, but Arnold’s fluctuating moods and shifting loyalties soon begin to grate. During two bravura set-piece scenes, at a family dinner party and a romantic vacation trip to Las Vegas, Gloria finally comes to the soul-crushing realization that she has fallen for a spineless, unreliable, emotional con man.
Although he reconstructs the original film’s narrative virtually scene by scene, Lelio strikes a more overtly comic note in Gloria Bell than in the original. Moore and Turturro are naturally funny performers, playing out the awkward body language of budding romance as a neurotic comedy of manners. Loaded pauses and well-timed punchlines figure more prominently, too, but Lelio never stoops to easy caricature, allowing each of these flawed characters a fair hearing. The cast also includes an agreeably flavorsome chorus of older female talents including Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson and Fassbinder veteran Barbara Sukowa.
Stepping into a role memorably originated by Paulina Garcia, Moore appears in almost every frame of Gloria Bell, and makes every one count with an utterly natural and quietly spellbinding performance. Behind Gloria’s permanent brittle smile, she manages to convey an Eleanor Rigby life of quiet desperation, reduced to a secondary character in other people’s narratives. Working with La La Land choreographer Mandy Moore, her dancing scenes are also great fun, a lively mix of eccentric moves and joyous abandon.
Shot in peachy sunset pastels and saturated neon hues by cinematographer Natasha Braier, Gloria Bell is easy on both the eye and ear. Lelio likens this remake to a cover version of Gloria, an apt metaphor given how music is a crucial character in both films; arguably more so the second time around, as composer Matthew Herbert’s plaintive jazzy score is almost drowned out by a busy playlist of Latin dance numbers, classic disco and vintage pop hits.
Some of the more pointed musical choices, notably Paul McCartney’s “No More Lonely Nights” and Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally),” feel a little too on the nose. There are echoes here of Renee Zellweger opening the first Bridget Jones movie with Eric Carmen’s epic weepie “All by Myself.” But Gloria’s own solo singalongs to cheesy soft-rock ballads, which Moore performs with gleefully goofy amateurism, are a delicious recurring motif here. And no other film in history has found such a gloriously perfect use for Bonnie Tyler’s big-haired pomp-rock anthem “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Even when it goes deliberately off-key, Gloria Bell barely strikes a wrong note.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Production companies: Fabula, FilmNation Entertainment
Cast: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius, Brad Garrett, Jeanne Tripplehorn
Director, screenwriter: Sebastian Lelio
Producers: Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain, Sebastian Lelio
Cinematographer: Natasha Braier
Editor: Soledad Salfate
Music: Matthew Herbert
Production designer: Dan Bishop
Sales company: FilmNation Entertainment
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