A 50-something woman in glasses takes a delicate sip from her martini; she has no goal in mind other than to separate herself from the sameness of her seemingly bland, solitary lifestyle. But this the story of the emotionally unflappable Gloria Bell, and that blandness is only a facade. Tonight, Gloria is at a dance club in Los Angeles, and she's about to meet someone important.
A remake of director Sebastian Lelio’s 2013 original, Gloria Bell places Julianne Moore in the heels of the titular heroine, who glides through her office job with a song perpetually at her lips. At her insurance company, during yoga, and at home, Gloria is fixated on those close to her, which is even more apparent when she's introduced to Arnold (John Turturro), a recently divorced father of two.
The characterization of Moore’s Gloria initially draws parallels to the actress’s previous roles in films like Safe and Still Alice, where Moore experiences an intense downward spiral after losing control over her own life. Any attempts to cope with this spiral prove futile, but she's strong. She adapts nevertheless. Here, when Gloria finds herself a divorcee, she attempts to block out the loneliness at dance clubs until her sense of loss becomes all-consuming.
Gloria’s experience is therefore incredibly relatable. None of us can control the decision-making of those we love, and soon the distance between us and them can grow from a gap to a chasm. In Gloria’s first encounter with Arnold at a local disco, Arnold asks if she’s happy, to which Gloria responds, “Some days I’m happy. Some days I’m not." This is met with Arnold’s quick-witted response: “Like everyone.”
But who is Arnold, exactly? This is a question posed by Gloria’s son, Peter (Michael Cera), who's concerned over Arnold’s behavior when dealing with his ex-wife and children. He continually ignores their calls, becoming increasingly distant. It is at this point the film takes a negative turn. The viewer must suddenly question whether we should see Gloria in the positive, sympathetic light that Sebastian Lelio casts upon her, given her tumultuous relationship with Arnold.
It's when Arnold’s emotional complications arise that the audience is presented with an interesting dilemma: Who is the guilty party here? Gloria's choices make it hard to maintain an understanding connection with her. Instead, the plot suggests there's someone more deserving of our concern, someone who's being cast aside.
It’s possible that Lelio’s intention wasn’t to say that we, like Gloria, need to hold on to whoever’s willing to cast out a hand. Instead, perhaps, we ought to put our individual happiness before all else. That's certainly what Gloria does. She takes revenge on the man who spurned her, and she ends the film as she started it: dancing.
Gloria Bell is not a simple story of finding one’s happiness through a connection with others, for even that is not simple. Gloria tells Arnold that he “has the right to [his] own life,” but there are times when we can’t simply let go of our responsibilities. Lelio seems to stress that we have to take care of ourselves first and foremost. It's the only way we can then take care of those we love.