Gloria Review

Posted: September 19, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

GloriaSebastián-Lelio-poster-432x617Written by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Independent and foreign films are often a bastion for cinephiles seeking great art. These are the films which have the edge to tackle issues Hollywood ignores, and the ambition to take the risks the big-budget projects rarely do. But of course, this isn’t always the case. There are plenty of blockbusters which do have edge and ambition, and there are plenty of smaller films which don’t. These are films which tell simple, down to earth stories, they just try to do it skilfully and honestly. Such is the case with Gloria, the Chillean-Spanish drama which has drawn a small, but strong critical praise from the few who’ve seen it.

The title character (Paulina Garcia) is a 58 year old woman living in Chile. She has been divorced for a number of years, but refuses to resign to being alone. She still plays an active part in her children’s lives, and has an active night life. She enjoys going out to singles bars, dancing, and meeting people. One such person she meets is Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez) and the two begin a romantic relationship which the film will explore.

The trailer made Gloria  look like a film about an older woman who goes through a sort of journey of discovery following a recent divorce, but this isn’t true at all. Gloria’s divorce is not recent and her actions throughout the film are not some sort of reaction to the divorce. Instead, the film is more a random slice of life of it’s protagonist. Though the events depicted are important to Gloria, they are not earth shattering. There are no shocking revelations or epic character arcs. In fact, what the message that Gloria (and the viewer) are left with is largely up for debate. Gloria is strictly about exploring the protagonists life and it does a pretty good job of painting a comprehensive picture. We see Gloria in a number of different ways. Whether she be out dancing, at home putting make-up on, at Yoga, or just driving around. We also see her in a wide range of emotional highs and lows.

A movie like this is, of course, very heavily dependent on the lead performance and Paulina Garcia lives up to the burden. She makes Gloria a very likeable person who you root for, but also a very human character who has her flaws.They key to Garcia’s success is that she never overplays Gloria. The high moments are never too high and the lows never too low. Garcia just feels very natural and she also exudes a unique screen presence. It’s no surprise her performance as been the highlight for most critics. The second most important character is Rodolfo, Gloria’s boyfriend. There’s nothing really special about Sergio Hernandez’ work and he’s certainly not on Garcia’s level, but he plays his part fine and fills the role that needed to be filled.

Director Sebastien Lelio adds some strong touches to the work. While the film isn’t exactly driven by the visuals, the cinematography is pretty solid and every so often Lelio incorporates a memorable image. More important than the visuals is the audio. Gloria is a film heavily dependent on it’s soundtrack, which is almost all music I’m very unfamiliar with. The music is used very well however, often fitting Gloria’s mood and complimenting the picture nicely. The scenes at the club’s Gloria frequents are especially telling. There’s a sense of fun and energy to them, but also a sense of age. This is made even more clear late in the film when Gloria visits a more modern club and the musical juxtaposition between that and the earlier scenes.

Where Gloria stumbles is that at the end of the day, this just isn’t all that interesting a movie. The story it tells is pretty minimal and predictable and none of the characters are all that interesting. Even Gloria herself, fun though she can be to watch, is overall not very exciting, and not enough to carry a film completely on her own. The drama here isn’t very compelling, and the film’s comedic elements aren’t particularly funny. This not to say that the film is bad or boring, but it’s much more thin than it thinks it is.

I can’t help but be reminded of last year’s Frances Ha, and not just because both it and Gloria are low-key dramedies revolving around female characters that heavily rely on their soundtracks. In both cases, we have a film which is mostly just light entertainment getting a lot of mileage out of the category they fit into. Frances Ha got a lot of credit because it was an independent film shot in black and white, and Gloria has been over-praised because it’s a foreign film. Had the films been made by Hollywood, I imagine the reception would be a lot less glowing in both cases. Still, Gloria is a fairly enjoyable work. I don’t know if it’s a film I can specifically recommend to many people, but it’s a fun little way to spend an afternoon.

C+

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