Two phrases that should probably be retired from the English language—"slice of life" and "woman of a certain age"—have both been applied to Gloria, the new film from Chilean director Sebastian Lelio. Neither does justice to this nuanced portrait of a woman who, in her late 50s, goes about the hard work of finding happiness where she can.
Nothing about Gloria (Paulina García) is remarkable. She isn't beautiful or brilliant or quirky. Her office job is dreary and unsatisfying, as are her interactions with her two children, who treat her visits as sweet but exasperating obligations that can't end soon enough. She deals with the same day-to-day difficulties as the rest of us—sleepless nights, an annoying cat that keeps making its way into her apartment, loneliness. When the weekend arrives, she dresses up and heads to a Santiago bar, where she dances, sometimes by herself and sometimes in the arms of an anonymous silver fox, to sappy Chilean love songs.
Everything changes (or does it?) when she meets Rodolfo, a former naval officer and gastric bypass surgery survivor, who sweeps her off her feet. Literally. He owns an amusement park and on their third date treats her to a joyous session of bungee jumping. He also teaches her how to shoot paintball. (Big mistake. Big. Huge.)
Lelio's generous pacing allows Gloria's story to unfold with grace, and García invests the character with a winning vulnerability. That's not to say Gloria is a heroine—she most definitely is not. She is human. She drinks too much. She smokes even more. When she mistakenly gets her hands on her crazy neighbor's pot stash, she does not pull a good Girl Scout and give it back. Instead, she tokes the lot of it, lying on the floor of her apartment, naked and reeling and full of wonder. This is realism at its most honest and moving.
Which also means it might not be for everyone. If you like your movies slick and full of explosions, Gloria will leave you quizzical. There is no epiphany or red-bow happy ending. The climax comes courtesy of a bird. A beautiful bird, but still. A bird. And there are several scenes of post-prime yet passionate lovemaking that could disturb those accustomed to the airbrushed variety.
Gloria has been called a "triumph of the human spirit," yet another shopworn phrase that has outlived its usefulness. Yet the film is indeed a triumph—a triumph of quiet beauty and subtle storytelling that, if you like that sort of thing, will haunt you for days.
Critic's Grade: A
SEE IT: Gloria is rated R. It opens Friday at Living Room Theaters.