What distinguishes Sebastián Lelio’s funny-sad character study isn’t just its ubiquitous subject, a middle-aged divorcee looking for love and sex. It’s that we watch Gloria not simply getting her groove back (though we do see that), but also feeling numbed and downcast much of the time, often with the help of a drink. The Chilean director’s fourth feature isn’t some simplistic tale of uplift but one that honestly depicts someone who is taking emotional risks, having fun, and taking her lumps too.
Gloria, played by a tireless Paulina Garcia, lives alone in Santiago and likes to go out dancing; she wears dated granny glasses but her adventures would probably give her own daughter a run for her money. When she gets together with a timid-seeming retiree named Rodrigo, she enjoys herself but can’t help pushing him around a little; a complicated family dinner suggests that the need for approval isn’t something that goes away with age. (An underdeveloped detail, hard to ignore in a Chilean film, is that Rodrigo was a military officer, presumably during the Pinochet era.)
Lelio, again co-writing with Gonzalo Mazo, centers the film on Garcia from start to finish, right down to scenes of her stumbling about her apartment or blinking in the pitiless light of day after an all-nighter. Garcia is up to the challenge (though, truth be told, those specs seem an unnecessarily obscuring touch), and brings a welcome, defiant sense of brio to a complex role.