Thursday, February 22, 2018

Mini-review: "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool"

There's nothing more challenging that trying to review a movie nearly three months after you saw it, especially when it's added to the release schedule at the last minute. So all I have time and capacity for is a short review.

"Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" has a premise that seems like pure Hollywood hooey: a faded film actress and Oscar winner, virtually forgotten in late middle age, takes up with an aspiring actor several decades her junior from the rough neighborhoods of England. But that actually was the romance between Gloria Grahame in the late 1970s, as recounted in the memoir of Peter Turner, and adapted into a feature film by director Paul McGuigan and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh.

The film is a showcase for solid performances from Annette Bening and Jamie Bell. It's also a sensitive meditation on the power of love and loyalty.

Grahame was a major player in the 1950s, headlining in films like "The Bad and the Beautiful," "The Big Heat" and "The Naked Alibi," a favorite femme fatale. But she garnered a reputation for being difficult to work with and neurotic about her looks -- not to mention tawdry tabloid articles about her cheating on her second husband, Nicholas Ray, with his underage son, Anthony, who would go on to become her fourth husband.

The story takes up as she's eking out an existence on the British stage, and bumps into Peter, an unsophisticated wannabe. She's clearly in charge of every step of their relationship, including when it will begin and end, and the strange and wonderful reconciliation they find after her health starts to fail.

Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber turn up as Gloria's mother and sister, respectively, and their quietly savage undermining lets us understand how she became a bundle of barely stitched-up wounds. Julie Walters and Kenneth Cranham plays Peter's simple parents, who are bewildered by their son's tortuous romance with this odd, beguiling woman.

It doesn't add up to more than a portrait of unlikely romance, but "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" is worthwhile if only to see Bening and Bell pour their souls into their performances.

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