Everyone is vanishing around Julianne Moore's title character in Sebastian Lelio's "Gloria Bell." The disappearances don't come with blood-curdling shrieks or thundering score cues, but with the humdrum ebb of middle age. People just move away or recede from view.
Gloria is a divorced, fifty-something Los Angeles insurance agent by day and dances disco at a nightclub by evening. Her son, Peter (Michael Cera), is caring for a newborn while his wife is away somewhere in the desert "finding herself." Her daughter, Anne (Caren Pistorius), has an extreme surfer boyfriend chasing waves abroad — and she might soon join him. Gloria's closest colleague at work is sent packing. And, most of all, her promising new boyfriend Arnold (John Turturro) has a funny habit of disappearing every time his ex-wife calls.
Just about the only one who's consistently there for Gloria is a hairless cat that keeps turning up in her apartment. "It's like an Egyptian mummy cat," she complains.
"Gloria Bell" isn't a dour midlife character study but a warmly affectionate one, in large part due to Moore's radiant, lived-in performance as a woman committed to self-renewal. The film is an English-language remake of Lelio's own 2013 drama "Gloria," which starred Paulina Garcia in the lead role, and this version is frequently a shot-for-shot, line-for-line recreation. Still, "Gloria" feels light and spontaneous.
In between the two "Gloria" movies, the Chilean filmmaker Lelio made the Oscar-winning "A Fantastic Woman," about a transgender woman (Daniela Vega) in Santiago, and his English-language debut, "Disobedience," a tale of forbidden love with Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. He has made a specialty of graceful and earnest female-led films that make up for their lack of dramatics with a rare sensitivity.
With a dreamlike sheen (aided by Matthew Herbert's technicolor score), "Gloria Bell" follows Gloria through her modest days where any disappointments or slights are usually worked out at the nightclub — a place of refuge in "A Fantastic Woman," too. "When the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing," Gloria says brightly to friends.
Gloria's world isn't imploding, but it's not exactly soaring, either. Her life, like most, is full of impermanent connections and stabs at self-improvement. But she is blessedly undaunted, like a personification of the uplifting spirit of the Laura Branigan anthem "Gloria." In Los Angeles traffic in her car, she belts out '80s songs. Vulnerable and guileless, this is as natural as Julianne Moore has ever been, even if her Gloria feels too secure for us to ever fear much for her future.
It's at the nightclub that Gloria meets Arnold, an ex-Marine who owns a paintball park. His first line at the bar is: "Are you always this happy?" ''Some days I am," responds Gloria, fresh off the dancefloor. "Some days I'm not."
Their budding relationship moves to the center of the film but Arnold — as all paintball park owners do — remains a mysterious figure. He's clearly still attached to his ex-wife whose calls disturb nearly every romantic moment. While smitten with Gloria, Arnold is so absurdly tethered to his ex-wife and their apparently unstable young adult daughters that the character — though so poignantly rendered by Turturro — verges on parody.
Or better yet, "Gloria Bell" — pleasantly low-key as it is — should have tipped more fully into comedy. With Moore, Turturro, the underused Cera and others like Brad Garrett (as Gloria's ex), the cast is certainly there for it. Some scenes feel like they would turn hysterical if the camera just rolled a little longer, if the sheen of art-film was a little punctured.
I mean, here is a movie with John Turturro dancing AND shooting paintball guns. We have Julianne Moore haunted by a hairless cat, an upstairs neighbor who screams "I want to die!" and a boyfriend who goes missing every time his phone rings. It's tempting to wonder what someone like Nicole Holofcener or Greta Gerwig would have done with such material. How about one more remake?