Film Review: Gloria

This salaciously juicy "behind the music" real-life tale could have been an absorbing film, but comes off as cheap and dull in every way.
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Although not highly known in the United States, the sex scandal that rocked the career of international pop star Gloria Trevi, the “Mexican Madonna,” obsessed the Spanish-speaking world. Coming from the direst poverty, the teenage Gloria (Sofia Espinosa) first attracted the attention of girl-group producer Sergio Andrade (Marco Peréz). This Svengali shaped both her performance style and composing of the politically and sexually bold songs which brought her to the top of the charts. But he also micromanaged her personal life with torrents of emotional and sexual abuse.

Gloria is brought into Sergio's fold, which consists of an ever-burgeoning entourage of young girls bent on stardom, who are basically his personal harem. The fact that they were mostly underage attracts enough attention that a worldwide manhunt ensues, with Gloria accused of and jailed for running what is deemed a sex cult.

Directed by Christian Keller and written by Sabina Berman, Gloria feels like a cheaply produced TV B-movie, brimming with exploitation and shot with inappropriate glossy, high-key lighting that keeps you at arm's distance from dramatic involvement. However unsavory, there was potential for a gripping true-life drama here, but the filmmakers' clumsy technique mires the entire enterprise. The very prospect of a sorority of rival "wives" for Sergio would seem to be a rich lode of drama and even dark humor, but the movie doesn't even function as campy fun, in the way of, say, Archie Mayo's diverting 1942 Orchestra Wives. It's just a lot of noisy weepin' and wailin', told in an annoyingly fractured, recurring flashback style that is particularly tone-deaf.

But the main problem here is the dire miscasting of its leads. Baby-faced Perez is too unremittingly slimy and completely lacking in magnetic charisma to be convincing as such an irresistible and titanic A&R lothario. The endless scenes of his female abuse become ever harder to take, yet Keller and Berman, no masters of subtlety, keep piling it on. Espinosa similarly lacks appeal and is quite ordinary in a role that calls for some of the electricity the very young Jennifer Lopez managed to ratchet up in her musical biopic, Selena. A climactic scene in which Gloria discovers the death of her baby should rend the heart but merely plays amateurishly. Espinosa is physically unprepossessing, so at odds with the mesmerizing presence Trevi was in life, and perhaps because of her lack of any true spark, Gloria's actual musical performances, which enslaved whole Latin communities, are scarce here. She does manage to stick out a mean tongue, however, a trademark of Trevi's which seriously predated the highly hyped oral antics of Miley Cyrus.