Gloria Bell


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Gloria Bell
"At heart (and it has a big one) there's a lot going for Gloria Bell."

I don't know if it's a rule that a film that shares its title with a song must not only feature that song but ideally end with an action sequence sound-tracked by it, but it's true of both Proud Mary and Gloria (Bell), and it's all the more surprising in the latter case.

Surprise being the operative word - shown as The Surprise Film at Glasgow's 2019 Film Festival, a screening that on more than one occasion Festival co-director Allison Gardner has described as her least favourite or most stressful or words to that effect - it's an odd duck, always well attended, and truly variable - from Greenberg to Spring Breakers to The Voices to Love & Friendship to 13 Assassins to being cancelled due to The Beast From The East, it's one of those rare occasions where a few hundred movie-goers see something without forewarning, prejudice or expectation.

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Gloria Bell is not a film that I'd have chosen to see. That doesn't mean it's not good - indeed, I would and have recommend it to many, and indeed will proceed to recommend it to you - it's just that I can only be in one place at a time and so when I'm seeing films for pleasure (if I still can) I choose the ones I'm most likely to enjoy, and when I'm reviewing it becomes about priorities and access - I was lucky enough to have other access to the shorts showing as part of Final Girls' We Are The Weirdos that was scheduled opposite The Surprise Film, and so mystery ticket in hand it was to the GFT I went.

Director Sebastien Leilo is here remaking his own 2012 film, Gloria. It's not just bells but whistles that have been added, his original script (co-written with Gonzala Maza) adapted with the help of Alice Johnson Boher (A Portrait Of Female Desperation, amongst others). The cast is full of famous faces but no matter how highly billed Michael Cera and Sean Astin might be, this is Julianne Moore's film. Gloria's a lady of a certain age, a certain distance from divorce, two adult children, frequenting the kind of nightclubs that play tunes of a certain vintage to punters who are wearing suits and ties, almost always with a Martini (straight up, twist, cannot verify how dry). She dances, she sings (along), she meets Arnold (John Turtorro).

Things get complicated from there. I'm not going to say that this is shot-for-shot, there's no weird contractual Gus Van Sant Psycho nonsense here, there are definitely regionalisations - no bungee jump, more Vegas - but a slow-burn feel-good mostly romantic comedy with a great soundtrack translates pretty well.

There are some gorgeous moments - the uniformity of mid-floor mid-level casino architecture is in its own way as disturbing as that of the Overlook, one scene's magic is all done with mirrors, the riddle of the sphinx cat is one not solved even with tune from the can, there's enough driving and singing along that the car stereo becomes a kind of chorus - more Grundig than Greek, but grabbing nonetheless. Catchy too, smoother than Gloria's love life, as transporting as sunshine on the freeway.

There are also some nakedly commercial ones - there's a product placement consultant credit, and UK audiences have few options to get their hands on Pepperidge Farm's Milano cookies. The very act of English-language remake is one fraught with import and cynicism, but Gloria Bell has a lightness and earnestness that carry it through. It's funny, on occasion enough to have the audience laughing out loud, at others a drier chuckle, subtler than a sequence which relies on the weird juxtapositions of Claudio Bertoni's 1946 poem Para Una Joven Amiga Que Intent├│ Quitarse La Vida" (roughly 'for a young (female) friend who intended suicide') from a volume of South American romantic poesy.

It is a slow burner though; 'slow down, before you start to blow it,' as the song goes. It holds its cards close enough to its chest that without forewarning your reviewer was waiting for a genre reveal that never quite came. That absence of signifier potentially invites dangerous talk of post-modernity, and there is something in the fact that this is a film perhaps intended less as a creative act than a commercial one - one translation too many? Yet at heart (and it has a big one) there's a lot going for Gloria Bell. It's got the ring of truth, and while it might not go like the clappers it's well sounded, rounded, and to many audiences more accessible than what we'll call its prototype. Laura Brannigan's 1982 smash was itself not only a cover, but a cover of a translation - to delve further though would have me heading for a breakdown, so I'll keep it simple. It's a toe-tapper, a delightful way to spend a couple of hours, and like its protagonist's Martinis somewhere to taste between sweet and dry, but no less potent for it.

Reviewed on: 15 Mar 2019
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Gloria Bell packshot
A free-spirited woman in her fifties looks for love in LA dance clubs.
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Director: Sebastián Lelio

Writer: Alice Johnson Boher, Sebastián Lelio

Starring: Julianne Moore, Sean Astin, Michael Cera. Alanna Ubach

Year: 2018

Runtime: 102 minutes

Country: Chile, US


Glasgow 2019

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