I Liked The Chilean Version of ‘Gloria Bell’ Better
“Reimagining” is one of those bullshit terms that Hollywood uses when they remake a movie. Acclaimed Chilean director Sebastián Lelio reportedly invoked the buzzword when it was announced that he was doing an English-language version of his breakout 2013 film Gloria. In this case, though, Lelio should take a cinematic mulligan. It’s less of a reimagining than a retread.
GLORIA BELL ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Sebastián Lelio
Written by: Sebastián Lelio, Alice Johnson Boher
Starring: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius
Running time: 102 min.
Sometimes filmmakers really do reimagine their material. Martin Scorsese brilliantly retooled Cape Fear for the modern age. That original parable of righteous marital strength facing down evil became a chilling psychosexual cautionary tale of how that evil can actually infect the nuclear family. But no such retooling happens in Gloria Bell, a still-charming and occasionally delightful late-life romance that’s nearly a carbon-copy remake of the original movie.
Lelio shows eerily slavish devotion to plot points and character traits, even though he transplanted the action from Santiago to Los Angeles. Fiftysomething Gloria (Julianne Moore) remains a lonely-hearts disco-dancing divorcée with two grown kids. Her daughter still works as a yoga instructor. Gloria’s boyfriend Arnold (John Turturro) is still a winning but weak lothario distresingly beholden to his ex-wife and needy grown daughters. He even wears a girdle, runs a paintball course, and sweetly recites the work of Latin American poet Claudio Bertoni, just like in the original. At least his name isn’t Rodolfo any more.
The original Gloria is extraordinary, most compellingly because of Paulina García’s work in the beautifully-written title role. So it’s to her credit that Julianne Moore not only wanted to star in the English-language version but that she wanted Lelio to reprise his role as co-writer and director. First-time audiences will doubtlessly be impressed by the remake, and may never know or care that it was based on a Chilean arthouse gem. But those familiar with the original will see a filmmaker playing it safe by repeating himself.
What’s doubly disappointing is that Lelio is such an inventive, expressive filmmaker. His previous film was A Fantastic Woman, a bold transgender melodrama and 2017’s Oscar-winner for Best Foreign-Language Film. It’s unfair to ding the still-wonderful story told in Gloria Bell just because Americans are starring in it. But there’s something in the DNA of Gloria that just didn’t translate to Gloria Bell. Maybe it’s the culturally specific details (Rodolfo confesses he was in the Chilean Navy at one point, which reverberates in different ways). And maybe it’s also the depressingly American trait of casting beautiful actresses as plain Janes.
The revelation of the original Gloria is how much it makes you fall in love with the physically unremarkable Paulina García. Her transformation from soft-hearted doormat to a no-bullshit singleton is downright sexy. How much effort does it take for Julianne Moore to make the same transformation? She’s a remarkable actress, and she’s great here, too. But she’s also saddled with an exquisitely crafted career of strong, capable, stunning performances. Not only do the characters in Gloria Bell feel a bit too culturally bland, but they’re also in service of an already independent woman. And that keeps this remake from being truly glorious.