Here’s something you’d never learn from watching contemporary Hollywood movies: Life doesn’t end at 50, even for women. The eponymous heroine of Gloria, played with indefatigable energy and a tender vulnerability by Paulina García, has been divorced for 13 years and lives alone in a flat in Chile, where her upstairs neighbor’s hairless cat keeps sneaking in through the window, freaking her out. Gloria frequents nightclubs filled with middle-aged people such as herself, wanders onto dance floors and flirts with men. One night, she catches the eye of Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), who is also a divorcee, and after some drinks and conversation, they go back to her place for sex.
Director Sebastián Lelio clearly adores his protagonist even when she’s at her most annoying. He doesn’t shy away from showing the couple’s aging, sagging bodies, one of the film’s first of many reminders of how youth-obsessed Hollywood has become, rendering adults to supporting roles as parents or guardians.
Gloria has two grown children, whom she constantly checks on but doesn’t smother. She works at an office, sustains herself and has had little contact with her ex-husband (their divorce was amicable). She starts dating Rodolfo, who owns an amusement park where she goes bungee-jumping and learns to fire paint-ball guns. But when she brings him to her son’s birthday party, to introduce him to his family, Rodolfo suddenly panics. He realizes Gloria has lived a long life he’s had no part of, and her warm past scares him. He’ll never be able to live up to it.
By turns funny and melancholy, Gloria is about how some middle-aged people continue to push forward, like they did when they were in their early 20s, and try to build a life for themselves instead of giving up and becoming recluses. Gloria, who wears outsized eyeglasses and a rather dowdy hairdo, doesn’t fancy herself as any kind of a beauty. She’s always honest and in the moment, and her inner happiness remains intact (when she’s driving to work, she sings along to the songs on the radio). She’s smart and self-aware, and she’s not above giving in to the sort of one-night temptations that are primarily the domain of the young.
The movie lets you make up your own mind about this vivacious, likable woman, who is doing her best not to surrender to her inner loneliness. When she goes to a club and starts jamming to a Spanish-cover version of Laura Branigan’s hit song Gloria, you’ll fall in love with her clumsy dance moves, her refusal to give up and her joyful exuberance.
Cast: Paulina García, Sergio Hernández, Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora.
Director: Sebastián Lelio.
Screenwriters: Sebastián Lelio, Gonzalo Maza.
Producers: Luis Collar, Juan de Dios Larrain, Pablo Larrain.
A Roadside Attractions release. Running time: 110 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, adult themes. In English and Spanish with English subtitles. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.