With Gloria Bell, Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman; Disobedience) joins the ranks of Michael Heneke (Funny Games), Takashi Shimizu (The Grudge), and Hans Petter Moland (Cold Pursuit) as directors who’ve shepherded the English-language remake of their popular foreign language originals to the screen.
In doing so, the Chilean filmmaker miraculously improves on Gloria, crafting a work that’s both more accessible to U.S. viewers and a likely honey trail to its thoroughly similar yet culturally distinct predecessor.
Lelio’s ode to aging while retaining one’s personality transports his 2013 breakthrough up a continent from Santiago to Los Angeles, and — for better and for worse — casts younger-looking performers as his leads.
While male star Sergio Hernández was in his late ‘60s during filming on the original, a then 53-year-old Paulina García merely gave the impression of being a sexagenarian, and a convincing one at that. The pair’s fraught, late-mid-life romance grants Gloria a slightly desperate feel, suggesting that their rocky convergence is a last chance of sorts — or at least that future such possibilities will be even more difficult.
Despite being a fellow child of 1960, the significantly more youthful-appearing Julianne Moore imbues the titular car insurance agent with greater agency and personal empowerment, and in turn amplifies the film’s sense of hope. Her Gloria Bell is also less of a fuddy-duddy than García’s Gloria, making fewer faux pas and suggesting that her Elton John eyeglasses are an intentional stylistic choice rather than one made for comfort or affordability.
Further trading boldness for mass appeal is the casting of comparably spry 62-year-old John Turturro as her paramour Arnold. As he and Gloria Bell connect over ‘70s anthems at an adult dance club as well as luxurious meals and even paintball, their developing fondness for one another is undercut by the frequent travails and scattered joys of their relationships with their grown children — facts of life that neither is adept at navigating as a single person, nor healthily balancing with a new love.
Under Lelio’s smooth direction, the visuals and pacing are consistently strong, and the performances — even a creepy Sean Astin cameo — feel painfully authentic. And though Gloria Bell hits many of the same beats as Gloria, to the point that a side-by-side comparison is warranted, the U.S. updates/tweaks courtesy of actress/writer Alice Johnson Boher intelligently open the story to a new audience while remaining faithful to the themes and tone of the original.
Plenty gutsy upon its release, Gloria was nonetheless not quite in the league of Unfinished Song or Brett Haley’s still-to-come I’ll See You In My Dreams and Hero in terms of respectful, soulful, and ultimately invigorating looks at late-life love. Gloria Bell, however, belongs in that conversation.
Grade: B-plus. Rated R. Starts March 22 at Carolina Cinemark and the Fine Arts Theatre