Arts & Culture · Film & Television

Movies: Gloria—Still Sexy After All These Years


You know when you’re trying to make a decision and you take out a pad of paper and create two columns? Well, if you aren’t sure whether to see Gloria, a new movie from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, I’m here to help you with some of the pros and cons. On the positive side, it’s a wonderful movie starring a luminous actress. It is grounded, sincere, smart, well written, deftly directed. It’s an affirmation of living and loving in midlife.

The negative? Get ready for one hell of an earworm. You won’t be able to get Laura Branigan’s 80s disco hit “Gloria” out of your head.

That said, it’s worth it.

Gloria tells the story of a 58-year old divorcée in Santiago. Early into the film, we watch her prepare for a night on the town. As American moviegoers, we think, “Oh, I know where this is headed: some awkward flirtation; some shy sex.” Well, not so fast.

We’ll get to all that later.

The movie’s title character is played by Paulina García, a familiar stage actress and director in Chile but relatively unknown here. She’s a woman of a certain age, but she feels and acts younger. She has a good relationship with her grown children: her son is a single father; her daughter, a yoga instructor. (She’d like to see them more often, of course, but the relationship feels healthy.) Gloria has a job, smart friends, a neat apartment. She tries new things, like laugh therapy. And she goes out dancing.

One evening, Gloria meets Rodolfo (the sometimes dashing Sergio Hernandez). “Are you always this happy?” he asks her as they drink and smoke and size each other up. She brings him back to her place and seems a little surprised when he calls a few days later for a date.

Rodolfo is charming, and he confesses he’s already infatuated with her. He reads poetry to her. He takes her to the amusement park he owns. Gloria enjoys the attention, but keeps her own counsel. For her, it’s not so much wanting as being wanted. And Rodolfo seems too good to be true. Soon enough, issues reveal themselves. Rodolfo has two daughters, who are as old as Gloria’s children but still live with their mother. He claims to have been divorced for a year, but he pays for his family in time as well as money, fielding phone calls midway through romantic lunches and at even less opportune moments. Gloria tries to convince him, gently at first and then more insistently, that they might be better off if he helped them stand on their own.

The situation comes to a head when Gloria brings him to a family dinner. At first Rodolfo envies Gloria’s family. Soon, though, her ex-husband becomes drunk and maudlin. Rodolfo bolts without saying good-bye, leaving Gloria humiliated. “What do you know about this man?” her daughter asks. Not enough, apparently. Gloria can hardly admit that the relationship is mostly about sex.

And, here’s where is gets really interesting. In recent years, we’ve had a handful (a very small handful) of movies about midlife women reawakening sexually. There was Something’s Gotta Give, with Diane Keaton, and the recent Enough Said, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Meryl Streep has had a string of these between Mamma Mia!, It’s Complicated, and Hope Springs. The message is clear. Yes, sex can still happen—but under the covers and with the lights dimmed. And, isn’t it all so adorable?

Move over, ladies. Gloria is no swimsuit model, but she’s more than okay with her body. In fact, in one scene she strips and becomes the aggressor, relishing her role as a femme fatale. Gloria shows us that just being naked is sexy, regardless of your years or the war wounds your body has to show for them. In a wonderful twist, it’s Adolfo who’s self-conscious; he’s the one who’s wearing a girdle.

When her relationship with Rodolfo does go south (for the second time), Gloria walks away. She’s sorry, but she isn’t going to beat herself up about it. That just isn’t her style (even after some bad decisions that result in a lost shoe, pocketbook, and potentially pride). Gloria can take care of herself. She’d like a man, most definitely. But she doesn’t need one.

At first, Gloria is just an above average–looking woman, fit and handsome in dated, oversized glasses (is she hiding or merely amused?). The wonder is that she becomes truly beautiful as the movie goes on. As in real life, as we get to know her, we fall in love with her, and the way she appears to us changes.

There are elements of Gloria that probably resonate more with a Chilean audience than they do here in the States. Rodolfo’s history, for example (“Not the military,” he explains, “The navy”), raises eyebrows amongst Gloria’s liberal, artsy friends. But, her story could take place anywhere. I found myself admiring her chutzpah and envying a movie industry that doesn’t hear “middle-aged divorcée” and automatically think Julia Roberts. (Of course, I did have one question. Where are these discos that cater to the mature? The only time I get to dance is at weddings and bar mitzvahs.)

Lelio said that he wanted to make Gloria, co-written with Gonzalo Mazo, in order to capture the complexity of the life his mother and her friends are living at age 60. It was meant to look and feel real, and it does. There is certainly humor in it, but it isn’t a comedy per se. The people aren’t cartoons; Gloria in particular is achingly authentic. She’s not really a character, which, of course, makes her a quite marvelous character indeed.

Gloria was Chile’s official entry for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It didn’t make the cut (neither did another remarkable movie about a younger but equally centered woman, Wadjda). García did win the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festiva, l and I hope we’ll see her in more films soon.

The song “Gloria,” dominant in the movie’s trailer, is used in the movie, but it’s not the cautionary tale we’re familiar with (“If everybody wants you, why isn’t anybody calling?”). Instead, it’s the Italian original by Umberto Tozzi. The lyrics are markedly different:

I miss you in the air
I miss you in my hand
That works slowly
I miss those lips
That I don’t touch anymore . . .

At times lonely, Gloria keeps going. She understands the joy of simply being alive. When there’s no one to dance with, you dance by yourself.

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  • Wendl Kornfeld February 6, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Just saw this movie on your recommendation — and so glad I did. There were several other women “of a certain age” like myself in the audience, but why was I the only one smiling and dancing to the final credits music as we all filed out of the theatre? Viva the Gloria spirit!

  • FIONA February 4, 2014 at 11:07 am

    “Gloria” is so worth the effort. Saw it Sunday with a friend. Luckily for us the theater was packed mostly with women who chose the film in lieu of the major sporting event. We left feeling jolly and jubilant. Make the time for this one.