MOVIE: FILM STARS DON’T DIE IN LIVERPOOL
STARRING: ANNETTE BENNING, JAMIE BELL, JULIE WALTERS
DIRECTED BY: PAUL MCGUIGAN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
It’s sad to think that you would be hard-pressed to find a person on the street who knows who Gloria Grahame is. In Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, at least for a brief moment, audience members will be Google searching the Oscar-winning actress and spark curiosity to watch her past films on Turner Classic Movies. It all comes to life through the performance from Annette Benning as Grahame and the story from Peter Tuner, which has a gentle approach to a true love story, about a movie star that faded too fast.
It was 1979 when Grahame would meet the young Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) in England, a man 28-years younger than she was, but someone equally searching for appreciation in the world. Gloria was trying to reignite her acting success on the broadway stage and Peter was just trying to find himself a life outside of his middle-class England home. The screenplay by Matt Greenhalgh briefly mentions the controversial marital difficulties of Grahame’s love life, including her relationship, and eventual marriage to director Nicholas Ray’s son. This film, however, has more sympathy for the humans involved. Beneath Gloria’s beauty, was a woman who struggled to deal with age and the Hollywood stigma on looks. She is a cautionary tale, an enormous talent, but would put herself through numerous plastic surgeries just to stay young. When she becomes diagnosed that her breast cancer has returned, her health deteriorates fast, so she escapes to be with Peter and his family, to rekindle the love the two had for one another.
A commendable move by director Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein) is not to use special effects or heavy prosthetics to attempt to make Benning look like Grahame. Instead, he let’s the 20th Century Women actress embody the person, and portray for the audience the mental and physical state she was in during this later time of her life. Although Benning’s lead performance is the main reason to see Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Jamie Bell’s work holds strong. His performance as Peter is gentle, sharing a Billy Elliot reunion with Julie Walters as his commanding and kind mother Bella, and having a surprising amount of chemistry with Beinning. Halfway through I wondered, why hasn’t Jamie Bell been given more work?
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is more in line with films such as My Week with Marilyn or even Tuesdays with Morrie. There is a bit of beauty to a story that highlights when two people love one another, no matter what the circumstances. Peter’s arc, going from young man enjoying a friendly fling to taking care of his dying lover is quite beautiful. I can’t say that Benning’s work is her best, but it’s another example of her chameleon-like style. At least she brings back to life and reminds audiences of an Oscar winning actress. The first time I saw Gloria Grahame was in Oklahoma, but never did I know of her tragic, yet darling life story till now. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a reminder of a Hollywood legend, features two impressive performances, and a beautiful love story all at the same time. That’s more than enough to earn a recommendation.
Written by: Leo Brady