Sometimes the determination between an actor’s successful and unsuccessful work comes down to context, like the ensemble of actors surrounding them, and sometimes it’s about the writing. But some movie stars simply ‘are,’ and one responds to their presence. We tend to value physical manifestations of effort, like weight gain and loss, or difficult layers of makeup or prosthetics, wherein the obvious discomfort connotes importance, a ‘look what I did for this part’ gesture. All of which is to say that Julianne Moore is a national treasure, and Gloria Bell might be her very finest work. Moore is delightfully, effortlessly charming and affable, and all the more remarkable for the apparent ease with which she inhabits Gloria, turning her into a real person. The final shot of Gloria Bell, in particular, is masterful, and beautiful — largely because of Moore. A dejected Gloria begins dancing at a wedding reception, alone at first reluctant and barely swaying to the music, and then finally stopping altogether, as if stricken by something, her face going slack. When she begins again to sway, this time more vigorously than before, she gradually syncs with the rhythm of the soundtrack, and a smile spreads across her face. It’s a stunning moment during which a lifetime of emotions seem to flit across Moore’s face, the subtle modulations in her body language telling the story; a complete character is conveyed, no dialogue or exposition needed. To his credit, director Sebastian Lelio lets this all play-out in an uninterrupted take, smart enough to get out of Moore’s way and let the actor work.
Julianne Moore is a national treasure, and Gloria Bell might be her very finest work.
Gloria Bell is at its most alluring when simply following Gloria through her day-to-day life, presenting little episodic moments and structuring everything around a recurring bit where we see her in her car, singing loudly to music. We shuffle through doctors visits, a lunch with mon, visits to full-grown children and a grandchild, yoga classes, and a nightclub, episodes during which Gloria sometimes strikes up conversation with strangers, sometimes not. Eventually she meets Arnold (John Turturro), and the film loses a lot of its easy-going charm. Certainly, her rocky relationship with the mysterious Arnold gives the film something of a narrative framework, but it also becomes more conventional. Gloria‘s final kiss-off to Arnold indulges in some sitcom-style hackery That the rest of the film wisely avoids, but otherwise Gloria Bell mostly eschews easy “ra-ra girl power” platitudes. This isn’t Eat Pray Love; it’s messier, and, for the most part, more honest. Lelio is adept at cycling through repetitions, routines, and cinematographer Natasha Braier has a knack for making drab spaces look authentic without being visually boring. It’s all kind of profoundly mundane — and then we are left with Gloria, dancing by herself, smiling for no reason in particular, except perhaps as an expression of grace.