“Gloria Bell” isn’t your typical coming-of-age movie, and its titular character certainly isn’t your typical coming-of-age protagonist. In a standard coming-of-age film, the protagonist is most likely a teenager or a twenty-something, with the bulk of their life ahead of them. They experience a major life event, like a relationship or a death, that changes them. All loose ends are tied up by the end, and the viewer is left to assume that, after they’ve been affected by this life-altering event, there’s no changing left to be done. However, “Gloria Bell” understands that this is anything but true. People never stop changing and people never stop growing. In other words, people never stop coming of age.
Gloria, played brilliantly by Julianne Moore (“Still Alice”), is a fifty-something divorced mother of two living in a less-than-ideal apartment. In fact, mostly everything in her life is less than ideal — her adult children no longer need her the way they used to, her job leaves something to be desired and her relationship with her new boyfriend is dysfunctional to say the least. Whether we are aware of it or not, the reality of Gloria’s life is uncomfortable for a lot of us. We like to believe that, by the time we’re Gloria’s age, we’ll have our lives “figured out.” The hard, confusing parts of life will be behind us. Gloria’s life is an example of a life that doesn’t go as planned, and the prospect of things not going as planned is unpleasant to think about. Nevertheless, it is the truth. “Gloria Bell” is unafraid to bring awareness to it through the lens of Gloria’s experience.
While the middle-aged focus of “Gloria Bell” may feel unapproachable to younger audiences, the film is dedicated to creating a universal appeal in order to counteract this. For one, dating, apartment living and partying — all things we associate with youth — are all significant parts of Gloria’s life. The film shows that these facets of life are in no way restricted to people in their twenties and early thirties. Additionally, the movie is quite funny, largely due to Moore’s relentlessly charming on-screen presence. Michael Cera (“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), a well-known millennial icon, makes a few appearances as well. “Gloria Bell” also avoids isolating its younger viewers by bridging the generational gap between older and younger people. Although the film showcases undeniable cultural dissimilarities, like differences in music taste and attitudes toward smoking and technology, what each generation values at its core — family, love and human connection — is essentially the same. Gloria’s desire for meaningful connection is at the root of nearly all her actions, as it is for most of us, regardless of age.
All in all, “Gloria Bell” is a celebration of life’s uncertainty in all its stages. It knows that nothing is certain and that everything is susceptible to change. In the final shot of the movie, Gloria is shown dancing fittingly to Laura Branigan’s triumphant ’80s anthem “Gloria,” with an appearance of happiness and freedom on her face the audience has never seen from her before. She dances with her arms outstretched, open to all possibilities. Instead of wallowing in fear of life’s perpetual flux, Gloria basks in it and opens herself up to it. And while she will inevitably continue to change and “come of age” after the credits stop rolling, it’s clear that the growth she has undergone over the course of the film is monumental. Her personal growth and ultimate acceptance of it inspires viewers to not only accept the change that will certainly come their way, but to welcome it with open arms.