Can a movie be comfortable in its own skin? “Gloria Bell” certainly is. There are at least two reasons why.
The obvious one is Julianne Moore’s performance in the title role. Playing a divorced insurance worker in Los Angeles with two grown children, she takes the role of a recognizably everyday person — she’s not a serial killer or social-issue signboard or superheroine in disguise — and gives a performance that’s a tour de relaxed force. Gloria might be someone you work with or the mother of a friend. You recognize her. No less important, Moore inhabits her. The near-gleeful pleasure she takes in the part is hard to resist. Who knew normal could be so appealing? Not Hollywood, which brings us to the second reason.
“Gloria Bell” is so comfortable in its skin because it’s a second skin. The talented Chilean writer-director Sebastián Lelio has done this before — “this” meaning not just making a feature film (he’s previously made six), but this particular one. “Gloria Bell” is a remake of his “Gloria” (2013), in which Paulina García played the title role. It’s a tribute to Lelio and Alice Johnson Boher (who adapted the script), as well as Moore and a talented cast (John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor) that you’d never know the new movie is a redo. The one person clearly going through the motions is Moore’s character — literally going through the motions, on the dance floor.
That’s how the movie starts. Gloria likes to go out dancing, and if that means by herself, so be it. She’s not looking for Mr. Goodbar, just the pleasure that motion and music and getting out of the apartment can bring. There’s a lot of prime Earth, Wind & Fire on the soundtrack. There are also two songs whose presence both pays tribute to Moore’s character and speaks to Lelio’s attention to detail. One’s by Anita Ward, the other (happily, inevitably) is from Laura Branigan. Remember her?
“Gloria Bell” has a nice soft light. It’s what Southern California likes to think it sees when it looks in the regional mirror. The movie also has a nice easy rhythm. The niceness and ease keep the episodic structure — slackness is an issue — from becoming much of a problem. Gloria visits her son (Cera) and grandson. She consoles a fired colleague. She sings along to the car radio on her commute. She meets her daughter’s new boyfriend.
Then it stops being episodic. Out dancing one night, Gloria meets Turturro’s Arnold. It’s a kick to see Turturro in a romantic part. Who noticed before that he can look so much like an elongated Al Pacino? Oh, those hang-dog eyes. It’s obvious why Arnold would go for Gloria. It’s not un-obvious why she’d go for him. Their romance takes over the movie — not that anyone, or anything, could take over Gloria.
The movie’s set piece is a dinner at the son’s house where Arnold gets introduced to Gloria’s extended family — the chief extension being her former husband (Garrett). In almost any other movie, Garrett’s unerring blend of affection, uncomfortableness, and bewilderment — a big announcement comes from his and Gloria’s daughter — would steal the movie. But nobody here is stealing anything from Moore.
Directed by Sebastián Lelio. Written by Alice Johnson Boher, Gonzalo Maza, and Lelio. Starring Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor. At Boston Common, Kendall Square, Coolidge Corner. 102 minutes. R (sexuality, nudity, language, some drug use).
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.