It would be wise not to miss the first few minutes of Jordan Peele’s Us, his highly anticipated second feature following his 2017 smash Get Out! (Get thee hither to those concession stands early.) In case you do toggle in late, you’ll miss the 1986 prelude to the main action, as well as some key incidents and images that will resonate later. Having said that, the rest of Us is pretty good also—if it isn’t as strong and cohesive as Get Out!, it’s certainly not because of any lack of skill on the part of the filmmaker—but perhaps a preponderance of them.
Us centers on a privileged family (they have a summer house in Santa Cruz, for Pete’s sake) including Winston Duke as “keeping up with the Joneses” Dad Wilson (gotta have that motorboat), Lupito Nyong’o as the concerned, troubled mom Wilson, and Shahadi Wright-Joseph and Evan Alex as the Wilson children. Mama Lupito has certain memories of a traumatizing earlier incident in Santa Cruz, so she’s naturally reluctant to spend much time in public there (The movie never explains why the family has this particular house—despite the mom’s obvious unhappiness.) Elizabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker are their friendly, quirky neighborhood friends and all is good—for a day. And then that very first night, a family dressed in red appears in the driveway that appears to be the spitting image of the Wilsons—and they’re not there to borrow a cup of sugar.
It would be hard to review Us without offering up spoilers, but I will say that the first half is the most successful section. While Peele and the cast keep the audience generally on edge throughout, the movie is far more compelling when the explanations for the terror are kept mysterious. Peele’s strengths are especially evident when establishing the various threats to hearth and home, and in delineating the gleeful nature of some of the participants—played to perfection by all involved, especially Lupito Nyong’O, Elizabeth Moss, and Shahadi Wright-Joseph. Us has wit, suspense, little character insights and quirks, unnerving moments and unsettling bits of business to spare. It also has a number of ideas and thematic concerns which serve both to clarify earlier events, but also tend to ground the film in a manner not intended. For the most part though, Us is effective and entertaining—especially when it’s not caught up in its own issues.
To call Gloria Bell a romantic comedy would be doing it a disservice, since there is more to Sebastian Lelio’s film than romance (although a romance does play a part). Julianne Moore’s Gloria is an attractive, successful divorcee in her fifties with a good job, friends, well-adjusted grown children, and a caring mother (a terrific Holland Taylor). She also has to contend with an loud upstairs neighbor who is often heard (but not seen) and is frequently in the midst of a breakdown. Gloria also really loves to dance, mostly at a fairly elegant club that seems to specialize in disco and music from the ‘70s and ‘80s, so it’s not a surprise when she connects with fellow dancer Arnold (an excelent John Turturro). Arnold is also divorced, but with far more baggage than he lets on.
Gloria Bell is basically a series of vignettes, several small but many of them revealing, not only about Gloria, but her evolving relationships with friends and family. A family celebration turns into a nostalgic series of reminiscences which enhance one bond while lessening another; a trip to a paint ball range results in a cathartic scene later; a lunch between Gloria and her mother reveals some heretofore untold regrets. There are many poignant, amusing, perceptive moments in the film, and Julianne Moore is superb at embodying every aspect of Gloria, especially her compassion and her capacity for joy. Whether Gloria ends up with Arnold or not isn’t as important as discovering whether Gloria will be able to maintain being at peace with her surroundings and experience the joy in life. In Julianne Moore’s luminous portrayal, you’ll want to be there for the finish.