Whether you're 16 or 65, new relationships stir up the same sparks of excitement and the same lapses in judgment. That's the gist of "Gloria," the delightful Chilean drama about middle-age love between characters who have maturity on their side but still prove we're all amateurs when it comes to relationships.
Paulina Garcia practically pops off the screen as Gloria, a woman whose bubbly buoyancy can't quite mask her loneliness. Her two adult children don't always call her back, but she stays busy with work and yoga. Most nights, she heads to the local disco, where she usually ends up swaying solo on the dance floor, her sex appeal nearly obscured by oversized plastic glasses.
It's there she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a recently divorced man who picks her up with the brightly disarming line, "Are you always this happy?" Despite a fumbling first conversation, the buttoned-up businessman and Gloria quickly settle into a serious relationship that includes dinner parties with friends and paintball target practice, passionate sex and poetry readings for two.
At first, things are easy. But while Gloria fully embraces new experiences and people, Rodolfo is cagey. He won't even tell his two daughters he has a girlfriend. Before you know it, spiderweb cracks emerge in a foundation that seemed effortlessly solid.
With the exception of Nancy Meyers' movies ("It's Complicated," "Something's Gotta Give"), love stories about 50- and 60-year-olds are a rarity on screen, and nudity with middle-aged actors is practically unheard of. We're so used to seeing young, lithe bodies stripping down in movies that a glimpse of naked humans who look like actual people can be a little jarring. But there's a point to writer-director Sebastian Lelio's naturalism: Gloria and Rodolfo experience the same awkwardness and electric charge as any new couple, regardless of how many times they've been around the block.
The film's great revelation is Garcia, who's best known in her native Chile for theater acting and directing. She's a master at conveying nuances of emotion. When Rodolfo takes a call on his cellphone during the middle of their first date, her firmly plastered smile imparts both an extreme effort to seem happy and a simmering annoyance. Gloria is a complex person, and the movie takes its time revealing her. Even a tiny scene of routine, where Gloria slathers on a thick veneer of night cream before bed, rounds out her character: She's a woman who cares about her looks even while she hides behind huge glasses.
There are a few missteps in the movie, including a discordant moment of jealousy. But for the most part, "Gloria" is a day brightener of a character study about finding someone new and making the same old mistakes.
Rating: R (for sexual content, drug use and language)
Cast: Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez, Diego Fontecilla
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes
Where: Opens Friday in Pleasant Hill, San Jose and
San Francisco; opens in Berkeley on Feb. 14