Sebastian Lelio, director of Oscar winner A Fantastic Woman, turns spotlight on 'the auntie' in Gloria Bell

Argentine director Sebastian Lelio attends the New York special screening of Gloria Bell at MoMa  in New York City on March 4, 2019.
Argentine director Sebastian Lelio attends the New York special screening of Gloria Bell at MoMa in New York City on March 4, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NY Times) - Can a divorced, 50-something woman with a penchant for wrap dresses and bad decisions be the centre of her own story?

The question sounds absurd, until you consider just how few films have focused on such a character. But that's just what Sebastián Lelio's slice-of-life movie Gloria Bell does.

A remake of the Chilean director's award-winning 2014 Spanish-language film Gloria, the movie is a radical proposition for American audiences accustomed to seeing characters like Gloria relegated to the sidelines.

Set in a hazily lit Los Angeles, the new version stars Julianne Moore as a funny, irrepressibly optimistic and deeply flawed divorcée who in the course of the film does her best at navigating the day-to-day drama of middle age on her own.

She lives in a modest apartment, works a boring job in insurance, sings out loud to Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse Of The Heart in her beat-up car and goes out dancing by herself. Orbiting around her are her adult children, played by Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius, her friends (Rita Wilson and Alanna Ubach), her mother (Holland Taylor) and her disaster of a boyfriend (John Turturro), whom she meets out one night at her go-to disco.

Lelio, whose 2017 identity study A Fantastic Woman won his country its first foreign-language Oscar, said he wanted to revisit Gloria now because of this particular moment in American culture, when the view of women is shifting with the help of #MeToo in Hollywood and beyond.

"The story of a woman in America today, claiming her rights to be seen, felt urgent again," he said in a phone interview, adding later, "There's a political dimension now, and that's part of the excitement of it."

He explained that there was something moving about turning the camera on a character who in most films would be "the mother, or the auntie, or the friend. Normally, the camera goes with the rest of the characters, but here it stays with her."

Of course, plenty of films dealing with the trials and joys of middle age have starred, and have often been made by, women. Director Nicole Holofcener achieved critical success with movies like Please Give (starring Catherine Keener) and Enough Said (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). And Nancy Meyers became a household name with her ebullient romantic comedies starring Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton.

Still, such films remain few and far between.

Only a handful of the 100 top domestic movies last year featured women over 50 in lead roles, according to a study, "It's a Man's (Celluloid) World," from San Diego State University. In 2018, women accounted for 36 percent of major characters overall, and female characters remained younger than their male counterparts. The majority of female characters on screen were in their 20s and 30s; only 16 percent were in their 40s, 8 percent were in their 50s and 7 percent in their 60s or older.

Gloria Bell is an exaltation of Gloria but also an examination, Lelio said. "It is quite intense to show her from every angle going through the entire emotional spectrum, to really get to know this woman."

The movie has already drawn praise for Moore's performance. "The genius of Moore," Anthony Lane wrote in The New Yorker, "is how plausibly, and how patiently, she fills the spaces of ordinary living." It's Gloria's exceptional ordinariness that drew Moore as well. "There's more drama in a single day of a person's life than all these manufactured versions with explosions and car chases. When do you ever see a car chase?" she said. "The drama that I'm interested in is human drama and relationship drama."

For Moore, 58, it was also crucial to show that women don't become less interesting or less desirable as they age. "It's important to see women make mistakes at different stages. Just because you get older, you don't know everything and it's not like you stop living." She added, "I think in the weird narration of our world of entertainment, there are these central figures who are in their 20s and 30s."

That focus misses a lot of human experience, and Lelio took pains to show the full spectrum of a woman's life in the way he approached shooting the film, which includes nudity and a nonchalance around sex.

The only people who see Gloria in her entirety, though, are the viewers. Everyone else, as in any life, Moore pointed out, only gets little bits. Her mother, children and boyfriend each experience different iterations of her. "So there's a marvelous feeling of looking at her life and thinking about your own."