‘Gloria Bell’ disappointed faithful audience
As expected, when I went to see “Gloria Bell,” directed by Sebastián Lelio, the theater was entirely empty — a sharp contrast to the sold-out “Avengers: Endgame” showings just across the hall. However, I still had high hopes for the underdog. The film’s two leading cast members, Julianne Moore and John Turturro, have been acting for nearly three decades, with more than enough proof of their talent with films like Moore’s “Boogie Night” and Turturro’s “Barton Fink”. Lelio’s previous film, “A Fantastic Woman,” was also well-acclaimed. “Gloria Bell” follows the titular character, a middle-aged divorcee who wants to rediscover her life while encountering an unexpected romance with Arnold, someone who shares a similar experience with her.
Unfortunately, the film did not live up to my expectations. The writing of the script, specifically the reason behind the characters’ actions, is frustratingly unclear. Usually, I am fine with a film treating the audience with respect by not over-explaining the storyline. However, in order for that to work, characters need to show consistent and clear motivations in order for the viewers to develop empathy. In “Gloria Bell,” characters are constantly falling in and out of romantic relationships for no known reason. In one scene, Gloria and Arnold are still mad at each other; yet in the next one, they are on their way to vacation to Europe. The cast did their best at playing their characters in the most natural manner, but the sharp contrast of character motivations between scenes constantly made me wonder if I forgot twenty minutes of plot development.
The film’s thematic inconsistency was annoying for the audience. For at least half of the film, I could still enjoy the film for its unique point of view. The characters of Gloria and Arnold represent two different kinds of midlife crises. On one hand, Gloria carries pressure on her shoulders, from her professional environment to physical decay to an annoying neighbor. On the other hand, even though he was living a financially easy life, Arnold is constantly being dragged down by his divorced family, who continuously use guilt trips to depend on him financially. The two characters have a special bond at first sight, but they need to work extra hard to protect that relationship. For me, the best part of the movie was when Gloria takes Arnold out to dinner with her ex-husband and children. Sitting across the table and watching Gloria’s intimate relationship with the ones she loved, Arnold feels so abandoned that he has to leave. Throughout the scene, there is no dramatic dialogue or story plot other than the display of a divorced — but still loving — family, yet the camera keeps switching focus between Gloria and Arnold to sharply contrast that the unhappy memory of which it reminds him.
However, from this point on, the tone of the film takes a sharp turn. Almost halfway through the film, the director apparently decided that there needed to be a villain in the story. Gloria breaks up with Arnold and then they fall in love again, only for Gloria to be betrayed by Arnold one more time. None of those event’s actions are supported by established characteristics of the characters. In the end, when Gloria uses Arnold’s paintball gun to destroy his car, I felt no satisfaction, except sympathy for the man. It was almost like the director noticed the emptiness of the story so he added a side story about Gloria’s daughter’s wedding, even though Gloria’s daughter was barely mentioned previously, which gave the audience nothing to relate to.
Overall, I am disappointed with the film; not because it is astonishingly bad in any way, but because it started out so promising and eventually fell back to mediocrity. It had an interesting vision and likable characters; however, the peculiar structure of the story forces the characters to act in a self-conflicting manner. Considering this is a remake of the director’s own 2013 film, “Gloria”, I feel no guilt when I say that I wish I had seen the movie about people in costumes fighting a purple alien instead.