Sunday, November 6, 2016

1980 Week: Gloria

          Indie-cinema godhead John Cassavetes initially earned fame as an actor in mainstream films, and he spent most of his life parachuting back into Hollywood for paycheck acting gigs even as his pursued his real passion, writing and directing esoteric films exploring dark corners of the human psyche. The two parts of Cassavetes’ cinematic identity converged in Gloria, the most commercially oriented movie that Cassavetes directed, with the exception of two studio pictures he made in the ’60s before finding his arthouse groove with Faces (1968) and Husbands (1970). Starring Cassavetes’ wife and muse, Gena Rowlands, Gloria is a straightforward crime picture with a touch of Hollywood sentimentality—exactly the sort of formulaic schmaltz that Cassavetes generally avoided. Even for an iconoclast, the possibility of reaching a bigger audience (and scoring a financial windfall) must have been impossible to resist. Nonetheless, it’s significant to observe that after Gloria, Cassavetes transitioned back to making art films until his death in 1989. Given its mediocrity, Gloria could not have been the most edifying of experiences.
          The movie opens in the Bronx, where a frantic Latina runs home to her apartment, realizing she’s being chased. Jeri (Julie Carmen) is married to Jack (Buck Henry), a mob accountant-turned-informant, so Jeri and Jack both realize hitmen are on the way to wipe out the couple and their two kids. When Jeri’s friend and neighbor, middle-aged former gang moll Gloria (Rowlands), stops by for a visit, Jeri explains the situation and asks Gloria to hide the kids until after the shooting stops. Gloria reluctantly agrees, but only preteen Phil (John Adames) leaves with her, since his sister elects to die with her parents. Gloria takes Phil to her apartment and listens in horror to gunfire down the hall, then sneaks Phil out of the building and becomes a fugitive—because Jack entrusted his young son with a book containing incriminating facts and figures. Before long, Gloria finds herself yanking her life’s savings from a safe-deposit box and escorting Phil around the country while she works connections with old mob buddies in order to revoke the hit on Phil. The predictable contrivance of the movie is that the more time she spends with Phil, the more she warms to the idea of being the boy’s surrogate mother.
          Because it sprawls across a fleshy 121 minutes and because costar Adames’ performance is quite terrible, Gloria doesn’t work as a zippy little thriller; instead, it’s a weird amalgam of pulp trash and thoughtful storytelling. Some fine things occur along the way, and Rowlands believably incarnates a seen-it-all broad surprised by the emergence of long-suppressed compassion. (Rowlands earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for her performance.) As for the movie around her, it’s perplexing. Cassavetes populates scenes with his customary mix of grotesques and oddballs, employing improvisational techniques and nonactors to increase the movie’s realism. Seeing as how the storyline is inherently contrived, the imposition of these indie-cinema tropes feels awkward and unnecessary. Moreover, there’s a disconnect between the meditative nature of the movie and the oppressive noise of Bill Conti’s score. The Rocky composer, never known for his subtlety, drenches action scenes with exciting themes and uses noodly jazz riffs to energize sleepier stretches.
          FYI, Sharon Stone stars in a lifeless 1999 remake, also titled Gloria. Inexplicably, Sidney Lumet directed.

Gloria: FUNKY


Will Errickson said...

Another bummer from Cassavetes. The synopsis makes the movie *sound* like it'd be an exciting experience, but nope.

Lj letizia said...

THE PROFESSIONAL owes alot to this movie. Its a gender opposite remake

poochie said...

For me it's worth it for Rowlands' schtick; for recalling the feeling of NYC at that time, when I was there a bit as a barely older kid; and for those interpolated more Cassavetes-ish elements you allude to ... Heck, if it didn't have those, it would have wound up as (gulp) "Curly Sue"!