‘Gloria Bell’ review: Julianne Moore marvels in extraordinary character piece

John Turturro and Julianne Moore in "Gloria Bell"
John Turturro and Julianne Moore in "Gloria Bell" Photo Credit: Ivan Pereira

‘Gloria Bell’ 

Directed by Sebastián Lelio

Starring Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Sean Astin

Rated R

There’s nothing outwardly extraordinary about the protagonist of “Gloria Bell.” She works a nondescript insurance job, rents out the bottom floor of a bland Southern California home and spends many nights dancing away at nightclubs geared toward middle-aged singles.

But this is not an ordinary character in any sense: she’s played by Julianne Moore, one of the great actors of her era, and she’s the subject of Chilean Oscar winner Sebastián Lelio’s English-language remake of his 2013 film “Gloria.”

In their collective hands, she becomes the central figure of a drama in which few events of great consequence happen, but the depiction of a person struggling hard to fight an increasingly powerful loneliness rings deep and true.

Gloria’s efforts to ward off that elemental dread provide the essence of this movie, whether they materialize in her seeking our new romantic partners at the clubs, her efforts to remain a central figure in the lives of her adult children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius) with families and troubles of their own, or her search for a community centered around new experiences.

Moore is constitutionally incapable of being less than terrific onscreen, but this is some of her finest work, a performance of shattering intelligence and consumate grace. She is front and center for every moment and she fills the character with a richness of spirit. The skill with which she navigates the torrent of conflicting emotions is so effortless that she can move you to tears and laughter all at once.

The greatness materializes in the ways she passionately sings along to the radio on one of those interminable SoCal drives, or slowly and shyly makes her way through the darkened masses on the dance floor at one of the regular clubs, or is silently moved to tears as boyfriend Arnold (John Turturro) reads her a poem.

We have all been there. We all know this person and we have all experienced exactly what she’s going through, even if the immediate details and circumstances of our lives might be different.

Lelio knows what he has here and gives his star the latitude to present the full scope of this individual. And in Moore’s hands, Gloria is an inspiration. Things might not go her way, she might be perpetually disappointed by those around her, she might feel as unlucky as can be, but she wakes up every morning, gets herself out of bed and continues seeking out that elusive thing called happiness.

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