To step onto a crowded dance floor and move to the music carefree and with abandon can be an act as tension-filled as jumping out of a plane with only a parachute to cushion the fall. For others, including divorcée Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) in the film titled for the character, dancing at clubs each week with different partners is the time when she can escape the sometimes tension-filled and more often monotonous life she leads by day. But as with any act of escapism, we are left wondering: What is it that Gloria is searching for?
In this almost word-for-word remake of his 2013 Spanish-speaking version, “Gloria,” Chilean director Sebastián Lelio introduces us to a divorced woman who has, in a practical sense, figured out singledom. Divorced a decade, Gloria has found her groove, both on the dance floor and in life, so much so that she appears to want for little more than she has now, except perhaps a romance, should she come across that.
A modest but neat apartment, grown children (Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius) living on their own and not in much need of her guidance anymore, a small grandchild, friends (including good friend, Vicky, played by Rita Wilson), hobbies, a job in insurance, and a love for nightlife and 80s music, Gloria has mastered being by herself to such a degree that anyone newly divorced and at midlife first figuring out how to survive on their own would envy her. Still, Gloria is no stranger to heartache or the potential to have her day-to-day existence disrupted, which the recently single Arnold (John Turturro) manages to do after meeting Gloria at a bar during one of her nights out.
Set in Los Angeles and spanning the few month-long roller coaster of a relationship that ensues between the pair, the erratic highs and lows of which result from Arnold’s resistance and inability to extricate himself from his former married life ruled by a needy ex-wife and two as equally demanding adult daughters still living at home, Lelio captures how much it is the handling of emotionally trying (and sometimes not so emotionally trying) circumstances, not the circumstances themselves, that determine our quality of life. For Gloria, a jilting dating experience with Arnold is what ultimately leads her transformation from a passive actor in her post-divorce world where she has adapted to her situation to a woman who belongs to herself first. A slice of life film about surviving and eventually thriving, here are nine lessons we can learn from “Gloria Bell” about life after divorce.
We meet Gloria not at the beginning of her divorce story but somewhere in the middle. She has a life: a career, friends, stable relationships with her children, a good rapport with her ex-husband, hobbies, a lovely apartment. Gloria’s moved on. She’s not off in a corner feeling sorry for herself.
Gloria loves to dance. She loves to dance to music from the 80s. So, that is what she does. When Arnold asks how often she visits the club they are at when they first meet, Gloria tells him that she goes there whenever she wants, time allowing. No lies. No excuses. No sugar-coating the truth. It is who she is.
During the opening scene of the film, Gloria shows us she isn’t shy. Though not aggressive, she has no problem going over to people she doesn’t know to say hello and introduce herself. A life lesson for sure: sometimes a simple “hi” is all it takes to change your life or, at a minimum, your evening.
Gloria goes out dancing by herself. The fact that she doesn’t have anyone to go with does nothing to stop her. A night out isn’t an occasional thing either; it’s a regular thing. So, too, are classes to explore her interests, including a class on how to laugh. The message? Don’t wait for others to live your life.
Relationships change, including those we have with our children, our exes, and, most importantly, ourselves. Aside from the friendly rapport Gloria shares with her ex-husband (Brad Garrett) who she hasn’t seen in a while (they’re divorced, which means their relationship couldn’t have always been this good), we also witness Gloria take a more limited role in her children’s lives as she lets them figure out their romantic relationships and parenting challenges with limited interference from her.
The relationship between Gloria and Arnold emphasizes that passion and an active sex life can be had at midlife and beyond. Good news for anyone going through a divorce or ready to get back out there after.
Gloria Bell is not a woman to be forgotten. She is put together on the inside as much as she is on the outside. Although she is happy when partnered, her life is so full that anyone who becomes a part of it remains precisely that—a part. Whether a boyfriend stays or goes, her life will go on as it did before, maybe even better than that.
When Arnold doesn’t treat Gloria right, and she has finally had enough of his antics running back to his past, we can’t help but cheer her on when she finally takes a stand. No relationship is ever worth staying in if you are not getting what you need from it. Being alone isn’t fate; it can also be a choice. And a good one at that.
At the outset of the film, Gloria, although independent and confident enough to go out dancing by herself, is not yet entirely comfortable in her own skin, evidenced as she scans the room for potential dance partners, maybe more. Following her growth, however, Gloria rediscovers while at a wedding what she loves most, which is dancing, an activity she learns is sometimes best experienced unpartnered. But never by sitting one out.
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