Paulina García—the Gloria of Gloria—has acted in soap operas in Chile since the 1980s, but there's no turgid drama or wild-eyed emoting in either Gloria or Gloria. Uncomfortable moments are endured or shrugged off; confrontations are small but pointed, or sometimes avoided. When a person disappears, they don't storm out of the room, they're just quietly gone.
Gloria is on the far side of middle age, and she's been divorced for a dozen years. Her life has settled around her in a way that you can tell still feels somehow unexpected and not altogether right—her office job, her small role in the lives of her grown children, her apartment. She sings tunelessly along with love songs in her car. Her neighbor's cat, one of those alien-looking hairless ones, keeps getting into her place, a mundane intrusion on a mundane life; when the neighbor himself starts shouting crazily in the night, Gloria calls his mother, in part to complain, in part to commiserate.
But Gloria's life isn't over. She goes to a singles bar crowded with people her age (such places apparently exist in Chile), and she dances and laughs and picks up the charming Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández). The camera, which likes to linger in general in Gloria, records their first tryst, then more later. Much will probably be made of the frank nudity of their older bodies, but unless you actually believe porn, the shock should be minimal. This isn't soft-focused, romanticized, sunset-of-life lovemaking, either; it's the unflinching, driven coupling of two people who just don't happen to be the age of those usually depicted having sex on film. As García said in an interview with NPR, "Look, I'm not Cate Blanchett. I'm a Chilean actress who has three children, and I am what you see. And [director Sebastián Lelio] told me, 'Look, I know how you look, and that is exactly what I want.' And we have fun."
Gloria isn't always fast-paced, but then neither is life. And, in her first feature film, Paulina García is absolutely excellent; she appears in every frame, entirely inhabiting the role and making each moment true. Even when Gloria's big, dramatic gesture comes, it's human-scale—and it's hilarious, and even glorious, in its own small way.