On First Fridays, there’s this restaurant and bar I go to sometimes in the Chicago suburbs. There’s valet parking and if you get there by 5 p.m. you can catch the free buffet—mostly it’s sliders and jalapeno poppers, bruschetta, quesadillas.
It’s around 7 p.m. when the DJ heats up the place with disco favorites and the dance floor swells with scores of men and women in their 50s and 60s who are here for the dancing. Mostly the dancing. It stays that way until 1 or 2 a.m.
I go every few months when I am in town and feel like driving out there because I love to dance. And I dance for hours, alone, or with my friend Carol, with other women dancing in groups, with men I just met—men my age. Or thereabouts.
“So, are you about 40?” says the bearded man who appeared to be my son’s age. My youngest son.
“Sure,” I say. And he danced closer.
Sure, I’m close to 40. Give or take 20 more years.
The next time I want to dance like that, I’ll see if I can get my hands on the soundtrack for Gloria Bell, the new film with Julianne Moore about the life of an ordinary woman over 50. Moore, by the way, is 58.
Gloria Gaynor, Olivia Newton John, Earth, Wind & Fire, Laura Branigan and more: their melodies play throughout this movie, stringing together interwoven episodes of work, love, lust, parenthood, friendship, dancing and disappointment
I danced to those songs in the 70s and 80s before life got messy and mature. I dance to those songs now and not just on First Fridays.
You will recognize her
“Never can say goodbye. No, no, no, no, now, I never can say goodbye. Every time I think I’ve had enough and start heading for the door…”
You will recognize her. Gloria Bell is every employed, divorced, visibly well-adjusted single mother of grown children I know. She is me, I am her, only I’m not as good looking.
The uncanny capture of what it really feels like to be a woman over 50 without any discernible pathology is so astonishingly relatable that it is difficult to believe a man – Chilean director Sebastian Lelio—conjured these scenes and these people who inhabit Gloria’s existence.
Beautiful and bespectacled, Gloria has a tidy life, including a well-appointed Los Angeles apartment—though a stray cat keeps intruding and the landlady’s son upstairs has a screaming fit or breakdown almost every night. Gloria calls the landlady to report so she can check on him.
Gloria is the kind of women other women like; men like her too. Her mother likes her, her children like and love her, her couple friends like her, even her ex-husband and his new wife like her. She takes a yoga class from her daughter. Even her daughter’s new Swedish surfer boyfriend likes her.
“Have you had work done?” a friendly woman asks Gloria as she sits alone at the bar.
“No,” she replies. They smile at each other.
A life of offering assurance
Neatly dressed, Gloria is like a page from an Ann Taylor catalog. When she wears slim wrap dresses, they are not from Diane Von Furstenberg, but Macy’s.
Well-kept and intentional, she even folds the towels in her apartment neatly. She is reliable, dependable in all her alliances, and even to her clients at the insurance company where she has the stature and position of an office.
It is fitting, as her life is about offering insurance and assurance to everyone around her: her son, the new father whose marriage is crumbling; her daughter, who is planning a partnership and new life abroad.
Gloria fills the crevices of her own life with activities and friends she maintains as diligently as she maintains her bikini waxes and hair color touchups. OK, she does drink a little, and once way too much, but she is not an alcohol-soaked rag-doll whose coping mechanism is cocktails.
“Love is in the air, everywhere I look around. Love is in the air, every sight and every sound. And I don’t know if I’m being foolish…”
Of course there is a middle-aged-man-meets-middle-aged-woman bar scene that involves banal chatter, dancing and long looks. Arnold, played by John Turturro, delivers the awkward pickup line, “Are you always this happy?”
“No, some days I’m happy. Some days I’m not,” Gloria says.
And if that isn’t worthy of a t-shirt or at least an embroidered pillow for every woman over 50, well, what is?
Not to spoil it, but you probably have seen the trailer; they go home together, they start an affair and it seems OK at first, not perfect, but certainly not littered with red flags. Caution signs maybe, not red flags.
Arnold, perhaps awkward because he is recently slimmed down from 280 pounds and a 52-inch waist following gastric bypass surgery, is extravagantly indulgent and romantic. He reads her poetry, is attentive and gentlemanly.
Until he isn’t.
He’s overwhelmed by incessant calls from a needy ex-wife and two grown daughters—27 and 31—who are unemployed and interrupt him constantly for money, attention, problem-solving. One day, Arnold inexplicably disappears abruptly and cruelly from Gloria.
He ghosts her. And more than once.
Almost every woman I know has been ghosted. And me too. But for Gloria there is no pathos or desperation. Gloria tells Arnold to get away from her and to “grow a pair.”
“I cried and cried all day. Alone again, naturally.”
Her mother and daughter provide Gloria solace as generational bookends and reminders of her mortality. Her mom says, “You’re going to wake up one morning and find yourself a wrinkled old lady like me.” And her daughter, who is newly pregnant, says, “We could all die tomorrow.”
I was super afraid this was going to be like the morality tale of Looking for Mr. Goodbar, the 1977 disco movie of one-night stands that featured one last fatal stand, with Diane Keaton starring as the victim. That pretty much cured every woman I knew of one-night stands.
But this movie doesn’t go there.
“Once upon a time I was falling in love. But now I’m only falling apart. Nothing I can say. A total eclipse of the heart.”
Women over 50 need a hero and Gloria Bell is her. She is not perfect, nor would any of us want her to be. She is transparent about the uncertainties of her life, and able to face it all, including the eye drops twice a day for her new diagnosis of glaucoma.
The final scene is worth watching the movie again and again—so I can’t wait until it’s on Netflix—because she is at her friend’s daughter’s wedding.
You guessed it, she dances to the Laura Branigan song Gloria. By herself. And she is resplendent.
“Gloria (Gloria), I think they got your number (Gloria). I think they got the alias (Gloria) that you’ve been living under (Gloria). But you really don’t remember, was it something that they said? Are the voices in your head calling, Gloria?”