Gloria Bell and the Lesser Spotted 'Middle-aged Female Lead'
It's no secret that Hollywood has a problem with middle-aged women. It's not just the fact that actresses in their forties and fifties are routinely eased out of what few roles there are in their age range in favour of performers a decade or more younger. Which leads to queasy casting decisions like the one to shoehorn Angelina Jolie into the role of Colin Farrell's mother in Oliver Stone's Alexander, despite the fact that she is less than a year older than him.
It's not even the fact that most male movie industry executives would rather submit to an invasive examination by a ham-fisted proctologist than green light a movie led by a female character in her late forties or, God forbid, fifties. The thing that really rankles is that on the rare occasions that we do get to see a middle aged woman doing anything other than playing court to her husband and children, everything – arguing, laughing, dancing, drinking, falling in and out of love – is somehow viewed through a tinted lens of either tragedy or absurdity. This is particularly true of romance. In Hollywood, first love is the only truly authentic kind of love. Middle-aged female sexuality is viewed like a well-worn but no longer flattering frock. Better off mothballed, packed away and forgotten. We don't want to put people off their lunch do we?
All of this is why Gloria Bell, starring Julianne Moore, is such a revelation. An English language remake of his 2013 original film by Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, the film follows Gloria, the divorced mother of two adult children. as she crashes joyfully through life, embracing whatever fate throws at her. And what fate throws at her is not all positive. There's an acknowledgement of the invisibility of older women – when we first meet Gloria she is alone in a club full of similarly mature punters. But Gloria is not one to mope in a corner and soon she's making friends and doing what she loves to do best of all – dancing to cheesy disco classics in the middle of the floor. The editing too nods towards the way that society tends to fade out the voices of older women – there are several almost brutal cuts which leave Gloria hanging in the middle of an unfinished sentence.
But the film also gives Gloria the leeway to be a real woman. To have lows as well as highs, to make mistakes and bad decisions, to temporarily lose her dignity, without somehow framing it as a cautionary tale or an express lift down to rock bottom.
There's a thematic and tonal kinship here with the central character in Nicole Holofcener's Enough Said. Played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Eva is a divorced single mother who embarks on a romance with James Gandolfini, only to realise that he's the ex-husband of her new best friend. Both films accept the fact that the dating landscape only gets more complicated once everyone is hauling a lifetime of baggage along to every first date. But neither picture would suggest that the depth of emotion felt is any less profound than that of one of the ubiquitous teen high schoolers whose romantic lives prove so endlessly fascinating to Hollywood.
It's perhaps no coincidence that Gloria's story was first told in Chile, rather than in the US. The resistance to mature female protagonists is nowhere near as pronounced in other territories and in particular, in arthouse cinema, as it is in Hollywood. Elsewhere in South America, in just the last couple of years, we have seen the magnetic Sonia Braga as a former music critic fighting against property developers in Kleber Mendonça Filho's Aquarius, from Brazil; and The Heiresses, a portrait of late life lesbian longing from Paraguay.
Over in Europe, a heartening recent example is Iceland's Woman At War, about a fifty-year-old choir mistress with a secret identity as an eco terrorist. In Estonia, the multi-award-winning Scary Mother tells of a wife and mother who rejects her proscribed role in the patriarchal society and starts writing sexually explicit fiction, much to the horror of her husband.
And you only have to look at the vivid and varied careers of Isabelle Huppert and Juliette Binoche to see that there is no shortage of opportunities for at least two older women in French cinema. It's perhaps Binoche, in Claire Denis's breezy comedy Let The Sunshine In, who is closest in spirit to Gloria. Could another remake be on the cards? Or – radical idea this – perhaps it's time Hollywood stopped treating middle-aged women as the punchline to a lame joke and started writing original stories for them and about them.
[Words by Wendy Ide]
Sebastián Lelio (Disobedience, A Fantastic Woman) pairs with Julianne Moore for a sophisticated romantic comedy.
Gloria (Julianne Moore) is a free-spirited divorcée who spends her days at a straight-laced office job and her nights on the dance floor, joyfully letting loose at clubs around Los Angeles. After meeting Arnold (John Turturro) on a night out, she finds herself thrust into an unexpected new romance, filled with both the joys of budding love and the complications of dating, identity and family.
Lelio creates a feel-good tale of later love which shows love can strike at any time, relationships are never simple, and nothing can get you down as long as you keep dancing.
Gloria Bell arrives in cinemas from Friday 7 June and on Curzon Home Cinema