The radical humanity of Julianne Moore
There’s a moment in Gloria Bell that’s almost shocking in its mundanity: Alone in her apartment, Gloria (Julianne Moore) puts her laundry away while a Paul McCartney song plays in the background. Moore, 58, says that small moment was something that she and director Sebastián Lelio came up with together. “He asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ I was like,‘I think I want to put my laundry away.’ ” And while it seems quite ordinary, it’s a scene that encapsulates the film’s hyper-focused scope, all the tiny moments that make up Lelio’s Gloria Bell, opening wide on March 22.
A reimagining of his 2013 Chilean film, Gloria (which starred Paulina García), Bell is, simply put, about an older woman living her life. Not exactly the stuff that movie poster taglines are made of. Lelio’s Gloria gave us insight into the life of a woman who isn’t afraid to live her life fully and unabashedly. After seeing the original, Moore desperately wanted to work with Lelio, loving the way he saw people, and describing him as a “humanist.” The remake took a couple of years to get off the ground, and Lelio directed the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman and his first English-language film, Disobedience, in the meantime. But then Bell began production and Moore was all in. “What’s so amazing about this film is that you get to see this character as intimately as you see yourself,” Moore says. “[All the other characters] see different aspects of her, while the audience experiences Gloria intimately—and to me this was really revolutionary.” That intimacy also came down to the filmmaking process itself—Moore says working with Lelio isn’t like a typical indie production, the director would have the actors redo the most minute motions. Moore describes it simply as just “his powers of observation.”
And the tone of the film isn’t the only thing about it that feels revolutionary—making quieter movies like Gloria Bell, in a Hollywood that is still dominated by more frenetic fare, feels almost like a political act. She’s a woman in her 50s who is divorced and has complicated relationships with her adult children played by Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius. She also dates a f—boy, Arnold, played by John Turturro, who Moore says is “absolutely magnificent,” to work with. But while Moore agrees that Arnold is a f—boy, she does think that despite everything that he puts Gloria through there’s something beautiful about him. “He tries so hard and it feels like it should have worked out.” Even though her relationship with Arnold puts her through the ringer, Gloria never lets any of the bad stop her from growing, learning, and experiencing what brings her joy, something Moore thought a lot about while playing Gloria. “We remain fundamentally ourselves no matter where we are in our narrative,” she says. “The drama that’s inherent in an ordinary life is absolutely beautiful to me.” And that she’s portraying, without judgment, a woman who gets left at a party (which happened to Moore IRL once, too!) or gets too drunk in Vegas at a certain point of her life where society deems her behavior uncouth is a way for Moore to change a narrative that she sees as “anti-female.” “We’re not going to tell everybody about that guy we kissed on top of a bus in Vegas, right?” she says, laughing. “Everybody’s been there.”
Gloria and the other women in the film (including Jeanne Tripplehorn vaping!) do stuff that is utterly banal, but in the context of what we see 40-50+ women typically doing in film feels brand new, which is what Moore is trying to say when she talks about “anti-female” narratives, is that age isn’t necessarily some sort of end point to changing and morphing as a person. “It’s not a narrative that I see existing in my life or in my friends’ lives. Why do we persist in applying this narrative? As a woman in her fifties, I’m like, wait a minute, this is not our narratives, so let’s not on board it.”
That said, Gloria is unapologetic in her continued growth, even when things gets messy. And in the end, what remains—and what ultimately gives her strength—is her sense of her own resilience. “Being resilient doesn’t mean putting up a wall,” says Moore. “It means experiencing things, taking the good and the bad, and still going on.”