“Gloria Bell”

For Whom the Loneliness Tolls
3 popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
film critic

My mother was beautiful. Not just pretty, but beautiful. At family gatherings, it was inevitably brought up: Who is more beautiful, Dora or Elizabeth Taylor? It was Mom’s cue to blush, although she kept serving and rarely sat down. Intentionally or not, her splendor impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Whether taken to the shoe store or a visit to the doctor, it was a given: A beautiful woman had just walked into the room. People like beautiful. It fascinates them, whether wondering what it must be like to be beautiful or intellectually deliberating just what it is that makes one beautiful.

Here’s why I raise the subject. Inarguably beautiful Julianne Moore stars in Sebastián Lelio’s “Gloria Bell,” about a middle class, middle-aged divorcee who earns a living in a nondescript office job by day and hits the L.A. dance clubs by night in search of Prince Charming. While the makeup doesn’t accentuate Ms. Moore’s comely visage, neither does it purposely attempt to deter from it. The latter would surely be an awkward mistake. But that the fact of her exquisiteness is simply avoided, especially in light of a screenplay that is otherwise so commendably realistic, is perplexing.

My thesis here isn’t so Philistine to recommend that Gloria is liable to fare better in her eventual relationship with dance floor find, Arnold, also divorced, because of her pulchritude. It might just be my excuse for seeing how many synonyms I can find for beauty. But the thing is, Moore’s appearance can’t help but play in contrast to the regular gal she’s been assigned to portray. However, as we take it for granted that most movie actors, save for character types, are far more attractive than a random sampling of folks walking down any street U.S.A., most viewers won’t share my piddling reservations. Plus, that Julianne Moore is also as much a thespic talent as she is a Venus doubtless helps ameliorate the miscasting.

But whether because of her humanity or also for her loveliness, we like Gloria, and hope that John Turturro’s suitor turns out to be at least a reasonable facsimile of the gallant knight on the white horse come to rescue our gal from dying with her song still inside her. But again, leave it to me to also have a trifling problem with Mr. Turturro’s character.

While it’s completely understandable that we soon become impatient with Arnold’s sometimes quirky behavior, there just may be an unexplained answer that director Lelio should have at least broached. There’s something amiss…something happened here. A former Marine who runs an apparently lucrative paintball park, he is inordinately in the thrall of his ex-wife and two obnoxiously demanding daughters. And it just isn’t enough for me to simply recognize Arnold’s inability to compartmentalize his role as super breadwinner and emotional support extraordinaire. He is a main character and not a convenient widget or a mere sounding board to help delineate Gloria. I want to know just a little more.

All the same, attesting not only to Miss Moore and Mr. Turturro’s superb performances, but also to my status as a hopeless romantic, I nonetheless rooted enthusiastically for this pair of lovelorn souls. In a classic case of invoking that the end justifies the means, especially in the cause of something as sacred as amour itself, and lending dispensation over my detractions, I defer to Joe E. Brown’s wacky rejoinder in “Some Like it Hot” (1959) when Jack Lemmon’s Jerry tells him he’s a man: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

So, while “Gloria Bell” isn’t the definitive statement on a woman of certain years left in the lurch through the sometimes unkind vagaries of marriage, among the parade of middle-aged actresses who’ve taken their turn at this entranceway to roles for older ladies, it is one of the most genuine. Ms. Moore, especially when her character is expressing the seemingly endless hours of loneliness that can overtake every other aspect of singlehood, proves a master of evocative nuance. Although we all know, especially through the canons of the modern woman’s movement, that no one should be defined by whether or not they have a life partner, here we witness that there are challenges nonetheless to overcoming old modes and conventions.

I mean, there’s a reason why we’ve generally attempted to pair off over these vast millennia, whether to swing from chandeliers together, to have someone there in the middle of the night to call the EMTs, or for any number of those infinite proclivities that seem unfathomable to others. Before the current awakening to self-determination, folks who didn’t participate in the mating game were often considered either selfish or undesirable…termed old maids, confirmed bachelors and, only in the rarest of positive estimations, exonerated as free spirits. But of course there has always been much more to it, and in Moore’s “Gloria Bell” the savvy glimpse beyond the stereotype rings true.

“Gloria Bell,” rated R, is an A24 release directed by Sebastián Lelio, and stars Julianne Moore, John Turturro and Michael Cera. Running time: 102 minutes