It’s a rare phenomenon for a director to remake their own movie, but this year, there are already two instances of filmmakers retrofitting their foreign-language darlings for American audiences. Hans Petter Moland turned his Scandinavian thriller “In Order of Disappearance” into the Liam Neeson revenge flick “Cold Pursuit.” And now, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio remakes his amusing 2013 portrait of feminine middle-age, “Gloria,” into a vehicle for Julianne Moore, “Gloria Bell.” The title isn’t the only thing familiar about the film, which is essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the original, a carbon copy down to the line readings, tone and story beats.
Both “Gloria” and “Gloria Bell” are slice-of-life depictions that seem simple on the surface but are remarkable for their singular focus on the experiences of a woman in her late 50s, a character type all too often forgotten or cast aside. But there’s something else about the character of Gloria that makes her different. She lives her life unabashedly, with her heart open, her dancing shoes on. It’s a frankly radical notion, not just for women, but for anyone.
Gloria is a divorced mother of two grown children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius). She’s also a grandmother and an insurance adjuster. But what makes her so interesting and appealing is that her zest for life won’t be dampened by circumstance. She’s unafraid to hit disco bars alone, attends therapeutic cuddle-puddle giggling sessions and shouts the praises of a friend from the top of a parking structure. She leads with her heart, which makes her seem so alive, so in the moment. But when she encounters an interesting new man on the dance floor, Arnold (John Turturro), a layer of her charming bravado is peeled back — perhaps she would like to love again.
In remakes of this nature, one has to search for the moments of dissonance, the elements that make it uniquely Chilean, or uniquely American (or Angeleno, to be exact). The small talk here centers on climate change, 401(k)s and having “work done,” both signifying the place and time, as well as the existential issues with which the film grapples so subtly.
Moore is softer and more vulnerable than the brassy and bold Paulina García, who won best actress at the Berlin Film Festival for her performance in this role. But Moore is more relatable, a bit goofy, sometimes unsteady. Her sweet chemistry with Turturro as the fumbling Arnold is genuinely affectionate and sexy in a film that acknowledges the realism of sex and romance beyond your 20s.
One does wonder about the purpose of the remake, when it hews so closely to the original, telling the same story. It almost seems that Moore discovered the film and character and decided she had to play Gloria, the way stage actors take on classic roles. Moore’s take brings a new dimension not only to the story but also to her career.
Lelio’s approach to writing and directing is to pluck out moments from Gloria’s life with which to weave a tapestry of who she is at this moment, which unfolds before the audience in distinct patterns — Gloria’s signature oversize glasses, her habit of singing along to the radio in the car, her loving but strained relationship with her kids. Highlights and lowlights make up the rest of the image, moments of freedom and abandon anchored by dark nights of the soul. But always, Gloria is behind the wheel of her own destiny, and that is truly refreshing and inspiring.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Rated: R, for sexuality, nudity, language and some drug use
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: Starts March 8, ArcLight Hollywood; the Landmark, West L.A.