Gloria Bell‘s a masterclass in embedding symbolically-meaningful gestures under a sheen of precisely-constructed realism.
Everything we do — and everything that happens to us — contains meaning, has meaning, is not merely meaningful, but is meaning itself. What we see and hear are the raw materials we use to form our worldviews — what does all of it communicate, explicitly and interpretatively?
Art, specifically the gaze-directing nature of film, can teach us how to look at, past, and beyond the surfaces of our lives to discover the layers of truth within. Pulling off this artistic magic trick requires a level of cinematic alchemy from all involved, in front of and behind the camera, down to the minutest of details. Every single element of Gloria Bell’s impeccable craft can be analyzed to shed light on the movie’s thematic landscape.
Take the costumes, for instance, whose style is the opposite of the sort of obvious flash that the Academy Awards usually reward. Their meticulously-observed, casual modernity — so realistic you may not even notice them, which kind of summarizes the titular Gloria’s arc: striving to both stand out and blend in — adds as much subtle color to the characters as their more conventional behavioral traits and decisions.
Every facial expression, every line delivery, every noticeable bit of body language in Gloria Bell comes replete with information waiting to be uncovered, to aid us in further understanding the ordered hodgepodge we call existence. This is subtext as text, probing the truth’s relation to the surfaces of our lives; it’s a study in surfaces revealing truth, and surfaces as truth. The complexity of our inner truth is suggested in — and thus can be gleaned from — surfaces when viewed through multitudinous perspectives.
The primary perspective here belongs to Gloria, whose privileged exterior belies the profundity of her latter-day plight. The story’s a classic character study, in that the plot doesn’t develop the characters; the plot is the character development. By perceiving another, we come to conceive of a greater fraction of the human condition. We experience the world through Gloria, off her, and in relation to her, and her world.
Name me an actor who possesses as much power to convey the whole world in nothing more — and nothing less — than a face, an unassuming visage, effortlessly juggling seamless naturalism and expressive theatricality, than Julianne Moore, in yet another career highlight (which is really saying something; she’s officially usurped Cate Blanchett for the title of my favorite screen actor, but the latter — because of her stage work — retains her crown as my favorite living actor, period).
While Moore basically shoulders this herculean affair — she’s in every scene, and damn near every frame — don’t sleep on John Turtorro’s Academy Award-worthy contributions (note: every year generates more than five worthy nominees per category). And they’re complemented by an endless bench of an ensemble: Sean Astin! Michael Cera! Holland Taylor! Brad Garrett! Jeanne Tripplehorn! RITA FUCKING WILSON!!! All of whom, in their minimal time on screen, embody a fullness of character deserving of their own movie, allowing Gloria Bell‘s existential and philosophical explorations to be refracted — and thereby deepened — through their interactions.