“Gloria Bell” comes to the M.V. Film Center this weekend. This remake of Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s 2013 hit, “Gloria,” stars Julianne Moore. After winning the 2014 Best Actress Oscar for “Still Alice,” Moore lobbied Lelio to remake the film with a Los Angeles setting, and serves as one of its executive producers. Lelio’s most recent film, “A Fantastic Woman,” won the 2018 Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Although the setting has changed from Santiago, Chile, to the U.S., the new version of “Gloria” mirrors the original, down to a scrawny hairless cat. This time Gloria is an L.A. divorcée who works as an insurance adjuster and loves to dance. She also sings along to ’70s and ’80s pop songs like Olivia Newton John’s “A Little More Love” on the radio as she navigates California’s freeways.
The film opens with a crowd of dancers at a disco club for middle-aged singles. Eventually the camera moves in on Gloria, sitting alone at the bar with a martini. Once she negotiates the dance floor, she singles out a former male acquaintance and reintroduces herself for a dance. Who should appear nearby but John Turturro as gray-haired Arnold, who locks eyes with Gloria. They hook up and quickly end up in bed.
In case viewers think they’re watching twentysomething sex scenes — despite 58-year-old Moore looking as youthful and svelte as any 20-year-old — this is middle-aged sex. The sound of Velcro ripping open signals that Arnold’s wearing a girdle, which, it turns out, is because he’s had gastric bypass surgery. And Gloria has glaucoma, necessitating twice-daily eye drops. Middle-aged bodies need help.
Gloria has two grown children: Pete (Michael Cera), and Anne (Caren Pistorius), busy with their own lives even if they love their mother. Gloria has friends and a mom, too. All that’s missing is a male partner. That explains in part her attraction to disco clubs, and it looks as if Arnold will fill that void in her life. Smitten, he takes her to dinner and introduces her to the pleasures of ziplines and paintball at the theme park he owns.
Their romance includes plenty of sex, but Arnold, who’s only been divorced for a year, hasn’t really separated from his demanding ex-wife and two daughters. He still supports them, and they badger him with phone calls that he always answers, even when he’s with Gloria. He also turns out to be more than a bit of a cad, abandoning Gloria at two awkward times. It also doesn’t help that the former Marine has a few retro traits like suggesting most gun owners are responsible and global warning may be a matter of weather cycles.
With three women’s films under his belt, Lelio has mastered the art of filling in the details of modern women’s lives, both straight and trans. Gloria is neither diva or drama queen, and in Moore’s capable hands, she is both spirited and genteel. A masterful Turturro turns Arnold into a somewhat sympathetic fellow. Most of all, though, if you’re a middle-aged woman, Gloria could be your BFF.
Information and tickets for “Gloria Bell” and other Film Center films are available at mvfilmsociety.