Sebastián Lelio makes exactly one type of movie, and I like it less every time I see it. Take, on this hand, a terrific performance by an actress playing the kind of character who doesn't generally show up as the protagonist of a movie. Take, on the other hand, nothing fucking whatsoever. Not dramatic urgency, not effective craftsmanship, not much in the way of a sense of personality at all, other than a vague tendency towards light quasi-comic character interactions. His last two films, A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience, at least had the fuzzy merit of admirable representational politics, being respectively about a transwoman (played by a transwoman) and two Jewish lesbians (played by one Jewish woman and no lesbians). His newest, Gloria Bell, has a much harder time making any such claim: nice middle-aged white divorcées having a hard time in the dating pool aren't really an embattled minority. Besides which, this isn't the first time Lelio has foregrounded such a woman's story, for Gloria Bell is a remake - an extremely close remake, on top of it - of his own 2013 Gloria, which struck me at the time as perfectly fine and perfectly forgettable. Nothing in the intervening years has seriously challenged the "forgettable" part of that assessment for me, but "perfectly fine" seems uncharitable; given how unfathomably flat Lelio's aesthetic has become in the intervening five years, Gloria looks in retrospect looks like some kind of miracle picture, what with its intentional cinematography, and its functioning editing, and all.

The story, as it was in 2013, is actively formless. Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) has two adult children who don't much need her around, and an ex-husband she barely ever talks to, but it's always friendly when she does. Her job at an insurance agency is exactly as emotionally neutral as "job at an insurance agency" suggests. Her personal life is highlighted by the neighbor's cat that she keeps having to shoo out of her apartment, and her frequent trips to a dance club catering to an older clientele, to judge from the '70s-heavy playlist. Here, she encounters a man named Arnold (John Turturro), who seems nice enough, so they start dating, at which point it becomes sort of clear that he's not emotionally ready to move past his own much more recent divorce. But not so clear that Gloria's willing to give up his generally good company because of it.

Lelio and cowriter Alice Johnson Boher content themselves to leave this mostly as a series of impressions and moments, which occasionally cohere into full-fledged anecdotes. There is an arc, though it doesn't even start to take shape until about halfway through; in lieu of such a thing, it simply relies on scenes of Moore inhabiting Gloria's various moods and behaviors. Much like the last time this film was made, it's the kind of thing you could hardly imagine existing at all if it didn't have an extremely great performance by a hugely talented actor in the central role, and it's a part so specifically tailored to Moore's strengths that it's hardly any shock to report that "extremely great" is exactly what we get. The flipside of this is that it's so specifically tailored to her strengths that it offers room for basically no surprises of any sort. I'm perverse enough to compare this to her last screen performance prior to this one, as the villain in Kingsman: The Golden Circle: that was a waste of time and talent in an absolute turd of a film, but she was doing something weird and unpredictable and electric, bringing disorienting vitalism to the project. By every imaginable objective standard, her performance in Gloria Bell is better, but it also feels safer, smaller, easier: Moore taking every line reading and mildly discombobulated head-shake or other gesture of "um, don't touch me" body language down pretty much exactly the path you'd suppose, based on every other performance she's ever given. It's a hugely admirable piece of acting, but not, frankly, an interesting one. Certainly not compared to Paulina García's notably pricklier performance as the first Gloria, in a film just a smidgen less funny and less easy to please, in part because of García's brusque edges.

All that being said, Moore makes this go down smoothly, with fine supporting work from Turturro (I could take or leave the rest of the cast - Michael Cera is especially obviously miscast as Gloria's son with a newborn child and a wife who's apparently decided to abandon them both), the both of them keeping things breezy and upbeat, if never actually "comic". And maybe I could even be okay with that, if not for how achingly ill-made the damn thing is. Lelio has never risen above "proficient enough to keep the visuals out of the way of the script", but his two English-language films are both actually broken, and the best thing I can say about Gloria Bell is that at least the shitty editing here isn't as destructive as the shitty editing was in Disobedience.

But it is, nonetheless, shitty, confusing space and the timing of line deliveries enough to make any conversation longer than about 30 seconds a shambles of disconnected responses and reaction shots. It's clear that the film's big standout scene that everyone wants to talk about is a dinner between Gloria's kids, and her ex, and his wife, and Arnold, where she keeps making her new boyfriend feel diminished and ignored as she wallows in nostalgia, and to me this is a conspicuous example of how dreadfully sloppy and dysfunctional the film can get: it barely even crafts the illusion that these people are interacting, with its outright rejection of such niceties as "eyeline matches" or "the 180-degree line", and perhaps I'd be happier about the emotional tenor of the scene if I hadn't been busy grinding my teeth to powder while watching it.

Even worse than the editing is the film's hideous soft-focus cinematography, in an array of smeary, brownish pastels that, in a few blessed moments, give way to strong neon. It's probably trying to do some sort of thing where Gloria's trips to the dance club are the one place where things feel alive and vibrant, but there aren't many of those scenes, certainly not compared the endless succession of scenes where it seems like Lelio and cinematographer Natasha Braier (whose previous work, in the likes of The Rover and The Neon Demon, I haven't just "liked", but head-over-heels loved, making me even more distressed at the state of Gloria Bell's visuals) actually forgot to adjust the contrast, and just let the raw footage hang its ass out there, for everybody to see. I haven't felt so specifically attacked by a film's apparently intentional visual aesthetic since Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

So in short, no, I'm not inclined to give the film a pass because Julianne Moore is delightful and wise and nuanced in precisely the ways I could have predicted from the instant the film was announced that she'd be those things. It's too damn drab, thoughtless, indifferently-made for that; adequate, well-acted character studies simply aren't rare enough to let even Moore's inexhaustible presence paper over how much this thing basically isn't even a movie.