'Gloria' review: She has late reservations

'Gloria'

'Gloria' (January 31, 2014)

*** (out of four)

Alone in a crowded club, some people would wither or wait for someone else to act. Not Gloria (Paulina Garcia). She dances. She mingles. She parks herself at a table and meets people. This divorced mother of two grown children isn't skydiving or sailing around the world, but she's putting herself out there and refusing to let her later years drift along.

Garcia won best actress at international film fests in both Berlin and Hawaii, and you won't find a disagreement here. The best compliment the Chilean drama "Gloria" deserves is that it captures how it feels to be its title character (who in an American remake could be played by Mary McDonnell of "Major Crimes"). That doesn't happen without Garcia's subtle command of her character's desire and disappointment.

The movie itself isn't as controlled. Not particularly close with her son and daughter, Gloria attempts to meet a man on the dance floor and seems to find a gem in Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), who's been divorced only a year but can't take his eyes off her. Since no relationship is totally smooth sailing, these two must deal with Rodolfo's allegiance to his over-dependent daughters and his bizarre, inexplicable tendency toward unreliability.

Director Sebastian Lelio can't quite leave well enough alone, though. "Gloria" contains several pushy scenes in which themes -- Gloria talks about people transforming! Gloria gets spun around on a carousel! -- are spelled out directly, which doesn't suit the character. In its second half the film loses both steam and credibility, though Lelio earns points for depicting Gloria smoking weed without the cartoonish goofballery of "At Middleton" or any antics mimicking "Last Vegas."

The movie makes the sad point that it's easy to blame the failure of young relationships on naivete, but it's borderline depressing to look at the present and realize you still don't have it all figured out. Thanks to Garcia, "Gloria" represents the wounded triumph of not giving up.

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