The opening scenes of Chilean writer-director Sebastián Lelio's Gloria take place in a very well-lit dance club, and they wryly remind you that anybody who survived the last days of disco is now eligible for AARP membership. They also remind you that, after all these years, there are plenty of pensioners, retirees, and older boys and girls out there who still just wanna have fun.

Lelio's camera slowly zooms in on Gloria (Paulina García), a well-dressed, middle-aged woman standing at the bar and sipping her drink. The rose-colored frames of Gloria's large glasses may make her look bookish and mild-mannered, but she is not. Her sophisticated self-confidence and sexiness emerge once she steps onto the dance floor and begins to feel the beat. Her dancing and her flirtations with other men may pique your interest, too. And you may ask yourself: Who is this woman? How did she get here?

Gloria rewards that initial curiosity; it is an unusually frank character study of an ordinary, extraordinary existence. Despite its leading lady's age, it covers all the important stuff of life: work, sleep, family, friends, sex, drugs, pop music, and love. Lelio's film may be allergic to melodrama, but his attention to and affection for his subject is a powerful homeopathic remedy for those moviegoers who suffer from the tedium of narrative cinema.

As Gloria, García is almost always on-screen, and Lelio spends a decent amount of time watching her work the phones at her desk job or drive around while she sings along to the radio. He also shows her smoking pot misplaced by her crazy upstairs neighbor, straddling her man during sex, and waking up purseless and hungover on a beach. The exciting, the dangerous, and the mundane coexist easily. Like most people, Gloria is large. She contains multitudes.

Unlike quite a few other recent movies pitched to senior citizens, she's also an older woman who isn't haunted by the shadow of death. The main source of drama and conflict in her life comes from her relationship with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), an older, recently divorced man capable of great passion and puzzling prudishness. Gloria and Rodolfo's time together shows that when it comes to romance, most people remain teenagers even as their hair thins and their skin sags. As a couple, they're as easy to root for as Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis in Friends With Benefits.

At times, Gloria's struggles with the elemental forces of passion and doubt reminded me of Robert Redford battling the ocean in All is Lost. Her troubles are far less immediately serious than his were, but they're far less contrived, too. Gloria is no moneyed, alpha-male world-conqueror; she's simply the kind of person you'd pass by while walking the streets of a large city. Unless you really paid attention, you'd never notice the way she was quietly "living the mystery of each day when now is the most profound thing I can imagine." But wouldn't you like to know her a little better?


Opens Friday, March 7

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