THE STORY – Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame finds romance and happiness with a younger man, but her life changes forever when she is diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1970s.
THE CAST – Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Vanessa Redgrave, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Frances Barber & Leanne Best
THE TEAM – Paul McGuigan (Director) & Matt Greenhalgh (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 106 Minutes
By Matt N.
Film stars may not die in Liverpool but our hopes that this would be an Oscar contender certainly did. Bring pushed off to the tail-end of December and with zero buzz surrounding Jamie Bell and especially Annette Bening’s performances, “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” will, unfortunately, die a slow and painful death at the box office. It’s a shame too because Annette Bening and Jamie Bell truly do give it their all but director Paul McGuigan’s film suffers from too many simple filmmaking errors and a thin story from screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh adapted from the novel of the same name by Peter Turner who was in real life, with Gloria Grahame in the last year’s of her life.
Hollywood, Academy Award-winning actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) has had a full life both in the movies and in her personal life, with 4 husbands and 4 children. Now, in her later age, she meets a younger man named Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), who she starts a relationship with. Things take a sudden turn, however, when Gloria becomes ill. Not wanting to call the hospital or tell her family back in America, she decides to move into Peter’s home with his family in Liverpool with hope that she will get better.
As stated above, the movie “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” is brought to life by the performances of Annette Bening and Jamie Bell. Bening, in particular, plays a role unlike any other I have seen from her before. With a high pitched voice, a seductive sense of fun and cheer, her Gloria Grahame is a full embodied performance that truly captures the spirit of old Hollywood stardom, even as she gets older with age, she becomes less likely to relinquish that persona. To his credit, Jamie Bell holds his own against Bening, playing the straight man with a tough, gentlemanly (He’s certainly not playing a “boy”) exterior that gives way when he’s around Gloria. Bell expertly plays off the tender loving care that the role of Peter Turner requires making sure that the romance between him and Grahame is both effective and emotional.
Breaking down the flaws of Paul McGuigan’s film is a long list. But I’ll start with some of the points which bothered me the most. First is the structure of the story (Which is also pretty light on plot). The film is told in a series of lazy flashbacks where the transitions are certainly not too subtle. Instances where a character will recall an event with the phrase “Remember that time when…” and then we are transported to that time, is one of many poor examples of how the film bounces back and forth between time. Secondly, there are some truly awful greenscreen moments in here that made me question if I was truly watching a professional film. A scene on a New York balcony, in particular, stood out for how the lighting did not match what an actual New York City backdrop would look like against the actors. The New York City scenes are also hindered by obvious examples of B-roll footage, to help with scene transitions, which do not match the film’s color palette or camera resolution. And finally, distracting lens flares take away from whatever good cinematography there could have been, as it is clear that these are not intentional for the overall look of the film.
Despite other hurdles in the film’s path, the performances and a genuine feeling of emotion that radiates from the romance, help to make “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” somewhat watchable. Paul McGuigan’s film won’t be winning any Academy Awards even though it’s a story about an Academy Award winner brought to glowing light by an Academy Award-winning performance from Annette Bening who is brilliantly balanced out by the charismatic and vulnerable Jamie Bell. However, despite being a love-letter to Hollywood and its star, the film’s overall poor filmmaking holds “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” from being a full-blown recommendation.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Wonderful, fully embodied and deeply felt performance from Annette Being & Jamie Bell.
THE BAD – Numerous examples of poor filmmaking all over the place. A thin story.
THE OSCARS – None
THE FINAL SCORE – 5/10