Julianne Moore’s joyfully fresh take on filmmaker Sebastian Lelio’s dance-loving heroine allows “Gloria Bell,” Lelio’s remake of his 2013 Chilean drama “Gloria,” to overcome its lack of narrative originality and succeed as a crowd-pleasing salute to women’s independence and expression.
Lelio (“A Fantastic Woman”), whose films feature women discovering and embracing who they are, has made a relatively comic film this time. The story — a woman who likes to dance finds love and seeks happiness — remains the same as in “Gloria,” though the setting has moved from Santiago to Los Angeles.
In “Gloria Bell,” opening Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Embarcadero, Moore plays the title character, the American incarnation of Gloria originally portrayed by accoladed Chilean actress Paulina Garcia.
Gloria Bell works in insurance, has two grown children (Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius), and lives in an apartment where an unstable neighbor disturbs her peace and an uninvited hairless cat keeps appearing.
Gloria handles her loneliness constructively, by spending time with family and friends.
Mostly, though, she goes dancing, at a neon-lit club for older adults. There, she meets Arnold (John Turturro), a recently divorced amusement-park owner and paintball fan. Romance blooms.
Unfortunately, however, Arnold brings baggage to the picture: an ex-wife and two grown daughters who are excessively dependent on him. He has done nothing to remedy the problem. He is afraid to tell his family about Gloria.
In two pivotal passages — one features a family dinner where Gloria and her ex-husband (Brad Garrett) reminisce; the other involves a disastrous Las Vegas vacation — Lelio shows how the situation is destroying Arnold and Gloria’s relationship.
The movie doesn’t contain the tension found in Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” and “Disobedience,” whose convention-busting heroines faced severe social antagonism.
It also lacks the darker shades of the first “Gloria,” which transpired in the land of Pinochet. The characters are more likely to discuss plastic surgery than politics.
Yet Lelio, who has described “Gloria Bell” as a “cover version “ of “Gloria,” has created a superbly acted crowd-pleaser that features the still-rare subject of a joy-seeking older woman and celebrates her quest and right to be happy.
Lelio presents intimacy splendidly. Emotion he puts onscreen always feels genuine. Smaller moments — Gloria moved by a poem or offering a coworker moral support — say volumes about the multifaceted heroine.
Moore creates a fresh and sparkling Gloria, whose face can shift from ebullience to disappointment in a flash. Gloria’s scenes with the excellent Turturro’s Arnold contain exciting chemistry.
For anyone wondering, Lelio has included the cheaply thrilling but thoroughly entertaining revenge sequence as well as a scene of the heroine dancing, alone and gloriously so, to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” recording.
Starring: Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Serra, Caren Pistorius
Written and directed by: Sebastian Lelio
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes