Gloria Bell is one of those films where not a lot happens in terms of plot, and that’s just fine because it remains a joy and pure pleasure to watch. Much of the credit goes to the performance of Julianne Moore who imbues the character with sparkle and an infectious charm. At 58, she remains one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses and many of us female filmgoers of a certain age are happy to see films that tell the stories of women who have reached a place of maturity and wisdom in their lives.
Gloria is a single woman in her fifties, divorced, with two adult children and newly a grandmother. She doesn’t allow her age or divorcee status to condemn her to a quiet, invisible existence. She dances freely at nightclubs and happily pays for her own drinks. She is a sexual being who becomes romantically involved with a man she meets at a disco. She does all the things that a divorced woman with a grandchild isn’t expected to do and does it with such exuberance it kind of makes me look forward to turning fifty.
Cinema should always strive to portray women in a myriad of ways. There is no single, correct way to depict women and the stories of women lives are varied and diverse. This film is unique because it depicts a woman for being brave simply by living the most rewarding life she can. Gloria finds happiness and joy wherever she can and this quality renders her, in her unique way, a heroic character.
She is not a heroine in the traditional sense, no Wonder Woman looking to save the world. Nor is she an activist seeking to improve the status quo. She doesn’t even show interest in the welfare of a stray cat seeking shelter in her home. She lives in Los Angeles, but seeks neither fame nor fortune. She works at an insurance company in a position neither glamorous nor sexy. But she supports herself, and demonstrates the confidence to be happily independent and remain beholden to no man. And in a single woman of her generation and her circumstances, this indeed suggests a certain heroism.
This is a film rife with endless poignant scenes that provide meaningful insight into Gloria’s character. At a birthday party for her adult son, she and her ex-husband discuss their early relationship and wedding. He becomes overly emotional, angry, and expresses remorse that he was not around more often. Despite being remarried, he remains mired in the past. Contrariwise, Gloria relishes their happy memories. She has clearly moved on and forged a new life for herself. While she has not remarried, she doesn’t need to be to have loving and meaningful relationships. She is the parent who has remained close to their children, their confidante when they need help with their own relationships, children, pregnancies and impending nuptials. She is the strong one.
The film focuses on her romantic relationships including a brief entanglement with a man for whom the expression “emotionally unavailable” may have been invented. He claims to be divorced, but refuses to introduce her to his two grown daughters, an insecure man who alternates between clinging to her and abandoning her at outrageously inappropriate times. The contrast between them makes us admire her feisty spirit all the more. Gloria flourishes because she embraces her hard fought status as a single, middle-aged woman.
For all of its effervescent charm, the film also contains a cautionary note. Gloria’s co-worker friend, also a more mature woman, confides to her that she is afraid of losing her job. She makes clear that she needs the job, remarking that she will need to work well into her geriatric years to support herself. We will never know what ultimately happens to her, but she is a reminder of the dangers that we women face in the workforce especially as we age and are seen as increasingly dispensable.
We need more films in this vein. Films that tell the stories of mature women, that celebrate the female spirit without sugarcoating the struggles that often accompany it. This film is slowly gaining an audience partially due to the interest that female filmgoers have in seeing women’s stories told and the dearth of these types of intimate films. I am cautiously optimistic that the success of this film will inspire the film industry to take note, realize the monetary importance of the large female audience, and tell more of our always compelling stories.
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