It’s a rare thing indeed to see women onscreen doing the mundane things that real-life women do every day: vacuuming the car, waxing, taking yoga classes, working. Rarer still is to see women “of a certain age” doing anything other than providing motherly advice to the hot young stars. Last year’s Hope Springs (with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) was a bit of an exception, and did a fairly good job of counterbalancing a “funny ha-ha” depiction of older people having sex with the sometimes poignant reality that older people might have a sex life. Gloria, the Chilean film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in this year’s Oscars, goes far beyond that movie’s realm, by daring to show us a lead approaching 60 with all the vim and verve of a much younger person. She’s divorced, her kids are grown and distant, and she lives in a messy apartment with a creepy cat that isn’t even hers, but she still goes out dancing in the evening, ripe for that decreasing possibility of love and romance.
This might sound a little pathetic. Maybe it would have been, had somebody other than Paulina Garcia played the title role. As it is, Gloria’s outgoing personality is infectious. When first we see her, sitting alone at a bar, all we really notice are the humongous Tootsie-like red eyeglasses, and maybe features of a less-than-perfect body. (A necessary side note: The clubs Gloria frequents aren’t like clubs here; they’re populated by a wide swath of humanity, all ages and shapes.) Quickly, we get into the rhythm of her life and begin to sense the gnawing desire she has for deeper connections. One night she meets a recent divorcé, Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), and after a night of sensual dancing they become a pair . . . sort of. While Gloria is wide open to this possibility, Rodolfo is held back by his reticence, and by his psychotically needy ex-wife and adult daughters. When Gloria introduces Rodolfo to her family at a birthday celebration, she’s taking a bold step, one which she hopes her paramour will reciprocate. Her openness to possibility is infectious to the point that, as the movie goes on, the audience finds in Gloria something far more than just the outsized specs she sports.
Gloria is not perfect. Characters drop in from who knows where, apparently friends of Gloria, but we’re kind of taken aback wondering who are these people singing together, and in whose living room? At least one of Rodolfo’s actions smacks of downright emotional brutality; perhaps this moment is meant to divorce the viewers from any lingering hope for the man, but I found it unbelievable. At the end, Gloria is alone at a party where she finally seems to see how she looks to others, and where she ditches the glasses to dance wildly to the title song. Her dancing seems timid at first, then erratic and disjointed, not in time with the beat, until finally, she is one with the song, and it’s a triumphant climax to a distinct movie blessed by Garcia’s powerhouse turn.