Chilean actress Paulina Garcia’s performance in “Gloria” is simply flabbergasting.
Playing a 58-year-old divorcée whose adventurous streak is at odds with her drab life, Garcia taps into feelings rarely seen onscreen. She’s at once thrillingly spunky and resigned to the difficulty of high-mileage models such as herself finding a loving relationship. She’s average enough to sing along to sappy pop songs, but vibrant enough to belt the hell out of them.
Her story is kind of sad but also deeply funny, blending tones that would be simplified out of existence in a U.S. studio film. Here, she’d get a third-act makeover from frump to knockout, meet Prince Charming, and ride off into the sunset on his white charger. “Gloria” gives her a richer victory. She won’t kid herself that life will become easier, but she will not give up on making it better.
At a seniors’ dance club, Gloria meets a kind, prosperous man who becomes her partner. He owns an amusement park and, without veering into trite lovers-on-a-carousel territory, the film shows them enjoying each other’s company.
Garcia, whose empathetic work here won her the best actress prize at the Berlin Film Festival, bares her soul and body. The film shows Gloria and her on-and-off lover having vital, passionate sex, without obscuring their bodies or glamorizing them. For eyes accustomed to gauzy lighting, soft lenses and taut, youthful physiques, this may come as a shock, but it’s a good one. The scenes belong. They’re part of the story.
As the relationship runs its course, we must think about adults’ responsibilities to their grown children, the compromises needed to keep mature lovers together, and how far forgiveness extends before it becomes a “Kick Me” sign.
Garcia gets to dance, get stoned, do an epic one-shoed walk of shame, and make rookie relationship mistakes without being ridiculed for any of it. She laughs, learns some lessons, and teaches some, too, with a paintball gun. Garcia amazes; “Gloria” delights.