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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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For ‘Gloria Bell,’ the joy is in the dancing

Dan Webster

"Gloria Bell," which opens today at the Magic Lantern — and continues playing at AMC River Park Square — is a look at one woman's life in contemporary America. Following is the review of the film that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:

Apparently, life for the middle-age American isn’t easy. For one thing, there are just too many distractions. Yoga classes. Dance clubs. Long, lingering lunch dates. As John Goodman’s character says in “Raising Arizona,” “So many social engagements, so little time.”

And then there are the frustrations. Ongoing attempts to keep in touch with adult children who have their own lives and don’t want the guidance they once so clearly needed. The specter, for many, of a daily work regime, not to mention all the other bothersome tasks of living – from noisy neighbors to … well, you get the point.

All of this leaves little time for engaging in that frustrating exercise so popular in mainstream movies, the search for love – not that love ever solves everything.

This is the life of Gloria Bell, the protagonist whose very name is the title of a film by Chilean writer-director Sebastián Lelio. Some of us have already met a previous version of Gloria, she being the protagonist of Lelio’s 2013 Spanish-language film that starred Paulina Garcia. This time around, Gloria is played by the American actress Julianne Moore, and the setting of the film has been moved from Santiago, Chile, to Los Angeles – with a few side-trips to Las Vegas.

We are introduced to Gloria during one of her regular trips to a night-club, a place filled with people from her own generation (Moore is 58, so it’s safe to assume that Gloria is roughly the same age). She meets strangers, dances and yet usually ends up heading home alone, to her apartment that seems comfortable enough – even if a cat that looks more like a hairless rat keeps sneaking in and her loud upstairs neighbor seems to be going through a mental crisis.

By day, she works as an insurance agent, and we know she’s a good person because she’s attentive to her clients and kind to her coworkers. Also, she drives to work singing along to ’70s and ’80s tunes such as “Love Is in the Air” and “Alone Again Naturally,” which tend to – a little obviously – reflect where Gloria is at any given emotional moment.

Lelio takes us through this daily routine, which changes one night when she meets the gaze across the dance-room floor of Arnold (played by John Turturro). Once they do meet, in an agonizingly slow scene that reflects each character’s essential vulnerability, they click: Sex quickly follows, then the getting to know each other, the sharing of secrets, the introduction of new life experiences (paintball anyone?) the meeting – or not – with other family members. And, finally, the expected personal foibles that ultimately, as anyone knows, can prove to be either obstacles to intimacy or opportunities for growth both individually and as a couple.

Throughout all this, Moore – an Oscar-winner in 2015 for her role as a woman facing early-onset dementia in “Still Alice” – is perfectly believable as Gloria. Turturro, not a natural choice for Arnold, proves to be her match as a needy man who can’t find the strength needed to break with his past.

Which doesn’t faze Gloria, though. Because she’ll just dance, dance, dance.

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