Review: ‘Gloria Bell’ is a new take on the coming-of-age story

by Mia Nelson | 5/7/19 2:05am

The film “Gloria Bell,” written and directed by Sebastián Lelio and starring Julianne Moore as the eponymous main character, is a meandering slice-of-life film beautifully unfolding what can only be called a coming-of-age film, only later in life. Gloria, the titular protagonist, is divorced, has an ordinary job and entertains herself by dancing in various nightclubs across Los Angeles and having unextraordinary interactions with her adult son and daughter. All of a sudden, a new romance blossoms for Gloria when Arnold, portrayed by John Turturro, picks her up at a nightclub. The two spend the night together and, at first, the relationship seems over just as quickly as it started — infinitely unimportant to Gloria. Her life is interesting with or without a lover, laced with subtle and grand disappointments such as her son’s wife abandoning him and their son, her daughter’s relationship with a Swedish big wave surfer, her work best friend’s imminent firing and her own mother squandering all the money left by Gloria’s father. The film treats such events with mundanity, as they are, after all, just parts of life. When Arnold calls Gloria to invite her on a date, it is clear she has forgotten him as much as the audience has, since she is caught up in her own life. We see Gloria answer the phone and respond, softly puzzled, “No, I’m not mad. Why would I be mad?’ Her nonchalance demonstrates her own self-contentment in life, based on a self-worth not rooted in someone else’s love or approval. 

Despite the fact that Gloria does not go to the nightclubs looking for a husband or any semblance of a long-term relationship, Arnold slowly embeds himself deeper into her life, reading her poems, telling her that he is in love with her. Fueled by his affection, Gloria invites him to her son’s birthday party, which Arnold abandons mid-way, feeling he is not receiving enough attention. Arnold’s neediness seems to appear out-of-the-blue, since their relationship has been brief. After Arnold ignores Gloria’s calls, Gloria chooses to ignore him.

While avoiding Arnold’s calls, Gloria learns that her daughter and her Swedish boyfriend are expecting a baby. Her daughter, showing Gloria footage of him surfing a gigantic wave, tells Gloria that she has never been so happy and afraid at the same time. Gloria, smiling, tells her daughter, “I think it’s called love.” Though she is not close to her daughter, since her daughter is young and distant, the two share great, if subliminal, love for each other. Their relationship, side-by-side with Gloria and Arnold’s relationship, demonstrates an interesting comparison in love: Arnold claims over and over again that he loves Gloria but leaves her behind and lets her down, constantly demanding more from her, while her daughter acts distant but shows up to help look for Arnold and gives Gloria a tearful hug before departing for Sweden. The movie forces the audience to ask, “Isn’t a love that is present better than a love that promises, over and over, that it will be?” 

Gloria finally rids herself of Arnold by taking his paintball gun and blasting both Arnold and his house while wearing a beautiful, turquoise dress. As his daughters and ex-wife run out of the house, we see that Gloria is free again. She laughs as she drives away in her car, a scene similar to scenes earlier in the film of her driving alone listening to ’80s music, signifying her return to her free, independent self. Gloria, after a long jourey astray, comes back home to her own identity. And personally, I like it that way, and I liked that she went out with a bang in her relationship with Arnold — it was in that act of defiance that the movie transcended our typical expectations of middle-aged women, minimized to people dependent on their family to both define and burden them.

Following the climax of Gloria breaking free of Arnold’s grasp, Gloria drives to her friend’s daughter’s wedding. She declines an invitation to dance with a man, comfortably sitting by herself at the reception. Only getting up when her friend begs her, Gloria dances alone to the 1982 Laura Branigan song, “Gloria,” a song about all the men the fictional woman in the song is trying to date. At first the song tells her try and get the men, but at the end the song encourages the fictional Gloria to leave the men behind and not pick up their calls. It is at this point in the song that the film’s Gloria dances freely and smiles. This end scene adroitly wraps up a film that, even in its meandering, has a sharp purpose: the lives of ordinary, pained, loved, joyous, alone women like Gloria deserve to be honored through story-telling. The greatest realization I left the film with was that society views single women of Gloria’s age as lonely, when she was really anything but without Arnold. It was only with the wrong person, Arnold, that she felt truly lonely. 

Gloria says at one point during the film that if the world is ending, she would want to go down dancing. Audiences should be inspired by her zeal and strength, despite what it means in society’s eyes to dance alone. Because, as I think Gloria would agree, dancing alone is still dancing.