Sebastián Lelio’s funny, touching, splendidly acted character study Gloria shows up Hollywood’s inability to create realistic, compelling roles for middle-aged women. While Gloria, a free-spirited 58-year-old divorcee finding romance in Santiago, might turn up there in a watered-down rom-com as a shrilly doting, comically lusty harpy-type, Leilo affords her dignity and respect, warts and all.
She’s terrifically played by Pauline García, whose performance — easily a candidate for the year’s best — exudes a raw, nuanced, effervescent honesty as Gloria navigates the emotionally murky terrain of midlife malaise. Her kids are fully grown and independent, and she frequents singles nights at bars, content to booze and dance on her own, but her voracious appetite for seeking pleasure and adventure can’t quite overcome the ever-pervading sense of loneliness and the onset of cruel age-centric physical ailments like glaucoma. Enter Rudolfo (Sergio Hernández), a charming retiree who seemingly offers her another stab at love, but ultimately serves to further unravel her complicated persona.
Leilo’s outstanding direction and thoughtfully written screenplay, matched with Garcia’s committed performance, make Gloria one deceptively effortless, subtly endearing treat. Its refreshingly frank attitude towards sex manages to conjure passion from Old People Banging without sniggering, and better still, it never balloons into melodrama nor makes any excuses for Gloria’s behaviour, however off-the-rails she might get. She remains the bright, throbbing heart of the story throughout, earning the inclusion of Umberto Tozzi’s cheesy disco namesake at the end. It’s not just a quick patch of uplift to send audiences out on a high note — she deserves it.