There are few actors who command the screen as well as Julianne Moore. The Oscar winner can make even the mundane seem interesting, thanks to her unique style, empathetic nature, and a willingness to expose more of herself — often literally — than others.
In that respect, the new film Gloria Bell is lucky to have her as its lead character; otherwise, the movie might be completely unwatchable. Gloria is a 50-something divorcee leading a life that is, shall we say, uninspiring. She has a ho-hum insurance job, two kids (Michael Cera and Cassi Thompson) with complicated lives of their own, and a proclivity for visiting dance clubs by herself.
Both lonely and determined, Gloria is more than willing to explore any male interest that comes her way. This openness leads to a relationship with Arnold (John Turturro), whose own thorny history offers obstacles toward happiness for them both.
Directed and co-written by Sebastian Leleo (Alice Johnson Boler is the second credited writer), who is adapting his 2013 Spanish language film, Gloria, the film eschews most plot devices in favor of just following the day-to-day existence of Gloria. There are plenty of recent examples — Roma prime among them — that show that films can work without a defined narrative, but they only do so if the events along the way can hold your interest.
In contrast, Gloria Bell is one of the slowest and most confounding movies in recent memory. Leleo only shows snippets from Gloria’s days, so the audience is often left in the dark or given only the barest of information about what has transpired in her life. The motivations and states of mind of various supporting characters remain mysterious, preventing any true emotional attachments.
This is especially true with Gloria’s children. Leleo offers up tantalizing teasers about the private life of each, including her son being a forced single father because of his wife’s flightiness and her daughter’s relationship with a Swedish surfer. But ultimately the lives of her kids leave more questions than answers as Leleo only delves into them halfway, never exploring them beyond those surface elements.
Then there’s the weird usage of relatively well-known actors in supporting roles. Brad Garrett and Jeanne Tripplehorn pop up as Gloria’s ex-husband and his new wife, Rita Wilson plays her best friend, and Sean Astin shows up in a random, non-speaking cameo. If any of them got anything interesting to do, it’d be one thing, but they all come and go with barely any impact. Even Turturro’s role is fairly limited despite him being her main romantic foil.
If all of this was supposed to be in service of showcasing the woman Gloria is or wants to be, it fails. Moore is as strong an actor as ever, and she needs to be as Gloria is about as unknowable as they come. The logline of the film calls her a free spirit, but Moore plays her as someone who’s mostly buttoned down except for the rare time she allows herself to let loose. It’s no spoiler to say that the end of the film gets the audience no closer to understanding her than it does in the beginning.
Gloria Bell could have played as a glorious showcase of a woman being true to herself in spite of the world trying to hold her back. Instead, it’s a slog that wastes the talents of Moore and her many recognizable co-stars.