The opening shot of Sebastián Lelio’s eighth feature film, Gloria Bell, finds its eponymous character alone in a pulsing, neon-lit club, surrounded by movement and flashing lights. The camera zooms slowly to meet its main character as she takes a sip of her martini while staring longingly into the crowd. It is often said that a film’s first shot is the most important as it tells the viewer what they are investing their time in. Gloria Bell is a textbook example of this. The opening take mirrors the motives and personality of its main character. Gloria is alone and overwhelmed by life. She wants the empty part of herself to be filled, whether that is by marijuana, men, or dancing.
As per usual, Julianne Moore brings her character to life. She embodies Gloria’s perpetual state of limbo, barely walking the tightrope between success and failure. That same authenticity that Moore seems to bring to every project she’s involved in is abundant in Gloria Bell. Like every other role I’ve seen her in, Gloria seems to come naturally to her.
About halfway through my screening, I noticed something unique. Everyone seated in theater 2 seemed to be feeling this film in unison. Because the lead character is embodied perfectly by Moore, us viewers found ourselves in Gloria’s shoes. When Julianne made a decision we liked, we clapped. When she made a decision that we thought was a poor one, we sighed and shook our heads. These days it’s quite rare to unite people on any topic, which includes film. Somehow Julianne had my teenage self and the dozens of grandmas seated around me putting ourselves in Gloria’s shoes without even trying.
I spent hours after the screen faded to black trying to figure out why this film seemed to grasp everyone in the audience. The film garnered the same responses in my theater as coming of age stories of the likes of Lady Bird. After much pondering, I think I’ve figured it out.
Gloria Bell celebrates the female characters that are usually sidelined: the mother, sister, aunt, wife, or ex-wife, just to name a few. From the electric score to neon lighting, the film makes a point of proving that stories about older women can be just as interesting as the frequently captured youth-led venture into adulthood.
Whether we realized it or not, us viewers found ourselves experiencing something truly unique: a coming of age story about a middle-aged woman. I’ve spent hours racking my brain, and I can’t seem to recall a single other film I’ve seen (excluding Lelio’s original Chilean film Gloria) that champions a story about a perfectly average, messy woman past her early twenties. Gloria Bell proves that these stories not only deserve to be told, but are just as invigorating and immersive as a film about a younger person.
With that being said, some of Lelio’s directorial choices momentarily broke my focus. Lelio likes to keep things quick. Scenes seem to end before they begin. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. When Gloria is struggling through a daily task, his signature quick cuts aid in never letting the comedic moment become dry. On the contrary, rapidly moving scenes often prevent his films from reaching the emotional summit that they have the potential to. Unfortunately, Gloria Bell suffers from Lelio Quick-Cut Syndrome.
Although said quick cuts are distracting, Lelio seems to be finding his directorial stride. Every film he has made seems to improve on its predecessor. The more he experiments with scene length, emotional catharsis, and comedic timing, the better he’s getting. Gloria Bell is a true indicator of where Sebastian Lelio is headed.
If the world blows up, I hope I go down watching Gloria Bell.