“When the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing,” the title character in “Gloria Bell” says with a performative chuckle. She’s the type who belts “Love Is in the Air” and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” alone in her car, ends rambling voicemails to her kids with “It’s your mother” and attends group therapy sessions premised on laughing in unison. Gloria, played with affecting precision by Julianne Moore, is a middle-aged optimist, divorced and lonely but unwilling to take it lying down ― the perfect exemplar for a slice-of-life romantic comedy that would be at home alongside “Enough Said,” “Something’s Gotta Give” and “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.“ We’ve met Gloria before, in slightly different circumstances, but her return is a welcome one.
“Gloria Bell” is Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s remake of his own film “Gloria,” a 2014 gem that starred Paulina García in the principal role. The original featured an identical story arc ― seeking personal connections, Gloria strikes up a hot-and-cold courtship with a fellow divorcé (then played by Sergio Hernández, now by John Turturro) ― and many of the same jokes. The newer Gloria still has a hairless cat, a dull office job, iffy taste in men and children who don’t return her phone calls. But this time the saga moves from Chile to Los Angeles. For anyone who has seen both, the impact comes from the realization that, even on different continents, the characters’ insecurities are the same.
It was Moore’s idea to set the redo in LA. She and García share a manager, and after Moore fell in love with “Gloria,” she requested a meeting with Lelio in hopes they could someday work together. The production company that owns the rights to Lelio’s script had been trying to put together another rendition, which Lelio had no interest in shepherding until Moore came calling.
“I understood the life that she was living,” the Oscar-winning actress said of repurposing the film in the United States. “I could see her driving. I knew where she would live. I knew all of that stuff ― that idea of being in a place where you can be isolated but you’re near lots and lots of people.”
With García’s blessing, Lelio went off and rewrote “Gloria” as “Gloria Bell,” after which Moore offered some vernacular suggestions to help patch up the transition from Spanish to English. In barely altering the plot, Lelio and Moore leaned into the universality of Gloria’s experiences. The updated subtext does away with the historical political violence that accompanies a Chilean backdrop, but the core through-line about a woman in her 50s seeking her best life remains just as resonant.
Both Glorias are bespectacled wanderers liberated by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s who contend with feelings of anonymity and restlessness. They plaster smiles on their faces to convince others ― and maybe themselves ― of their resilience. Lelio’s camera is wed to their every expression, often designed to be more elliptical than the average Hollywood rom-com. García and Moore show us different variations on the same subtleties: heartache filtered through disco dancing, romantic getaways, marijuana breaks and rare bursts of frustration. They show us, in other words, full lives.
Altogether, “Gloria Bell” is something of an experiment: Can different actors tell almost the exact same story and make it feel entirely new? (The starry cast also includes Michael Cera, Holland Taylor, Brad Garrett, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson and Sean Astin.)
In Lelio’s hands, yes. He has proved to be a remarkable chronicler of female psyches, first with “Gloria” and later with “A Fantastic Woman” and “Disobedience.” Now he joins a handful of notable directors who have remade their own movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock (“The Man Who Knew Too Much”), Michael Haneke (“Funny Games”), Yasujiro Ozu (“A Story of Floating Weeds”), Frank Capra (“Lady for a Day”). How interesting it would be to see him do it again with a different actress every several years, ensuring another woman of a certain age gets a crack at one of the meatiest and most humane roles to emerge this decade. That’s not his plan, but then again, he never intended to remake “Gloria” in the first place.
“The only thing I can say is that I was going to take care of this,” Lelio said. “I was going to do it with all my heart, because I love the story and I respect Julianne immensely, and I was going to do it with great care. That’s all I had.”
“Gloria Bell” is now in theaters.