Movies like Gloria Bell—focused on the lives and experiences of 50-something women—don't come along very often. In fact, they're infrequent enough that it's tempting to wonder whether the last one wasn't ... well, the last time writer and director Sebastián Lelio told this exact same story. Lelio's 2013 Chilean feature Gloria introduced the story of a divorced woman named Gloria as played by Paulina García, who won a Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for her performance. So considering that Lelio has opted to turn his English-language remake into virtually a scene-for-scene recreation of the original, it's fascinating to note what changes when the primary difference is the actors.
It's a pretty solid start to cast Oscar-winner Julianne Moore as Gloria Bell, who still appears to be getting comfortable with her life more than a decade post-divorce and after her two children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius) have emptied the nest. She spends days trying out activities like yoga and laughter therapy, and her nights at "mature singles" events at dance clubs, boogieing to the hits of her youth. At one such night she meets Arnold (John Turturro), a fellow divorcé, and the two strike up a relationship that becomes serious with surprising speed.
Lelio builds a mountain of rich thematic material into the basic framework of this narrative. There's a great recurring bit involving a neighbor's cat that keeps finding its way into Gloria's apartment, a perpetual reminder of the lonely cat lady she sees herself on the verge of becoming. And Lelio keeps dropping reminders of looming mortality into Gloria's path: a conversation with her aging mother (Holland Taylor) about how quickly time marches; a street performer's skeleton marionette; a diagnosis of glaucoma that means she'll be using prescription eyedrops for the rest of her life. As obvious a needle drop as it might be that Gloria has to listen to friends singing "Alone Again, Naturally," Gloria Bell effectively establishes how Gloria feels the pressure not to be alone again, naturally.
Moore brings to that character a different quality than García did. While the Chilean Gloria had a prickly personality that made every one of her relationships feel like a potential challenge, Moore's version is softer, more genuinely uncertain as to the kind of life she wants for herself. It's a side that pays off even more richly when Moore's Gloria decides to stand up for what she really wants—and doesn't want—for herself, yet it also makes the character a bit less complicated. There's never a sense in Gloria Bell that its protagonist has to become a different kind of person—she simply has to understand the kind of person she already is.
There's also a seemingly small but pretty consequential difference in the way Gloria Bell uses physicality and sensuality. Both versions of the story involve sex scenes between Gloria and her boyfriend, yet the Chilean Gloria isn't shy about showing us the less-than-perfect bodies of the people involved, both the folds and curves of García's body and the ample belly of Sergio Hernández as the Turturro counterpart. It's certainly not a problem that Moore is more lithe than García, but this telling for American audiences feels more timid about nudity. It seemed like a fundamental part of Gloria's DNA to emphasize that people who have aged beyond the body type of their glory years still have desires, and that those relationships can be just as real and profound.
In keeping with the choices he makes throughout the film, Lelio ends Gloria Bell on exactly the same scene as Gloria: With Gloria herself dancing to a song that's actually a more obvious needle drop than "Alone Again, Naturally." It serves as the same perfect punctuation mark for what the heroine has come to realize about herself, yet there's a bit of ferocity missing from the way Moore takes control of the dance floor. As satisfying as this story is in centering the emotional journey of a woman "of a certain age," it's also interesting to see a variation in which that woman isn't letting loose quite as much frustration—perhaps at the reality that she can so rarely see women like herself in movies.