Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is directed by Paul McGuigan who is known as a TV director of shows with some notable titles in the Sherlock, and Luke Cage franchises and others. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is based on a memoir by Peter Turner, an actor and protagonist in the book and film. The memoir was adapted for the screen with the help of Matt Greenhalgh who has experience bringing biopics and like genres to life. The star and source material for Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is Gloria Grahame, a 1940s film star best known for her role as Violet Bick in It’s a Wonderful Life, opposite James Stewart and Donna Reed; and for her complicated personal life and struggle in the film industry that kept Grahame as second string actress. Grahame was a fine actress, she even picked up an academy award along the way, but her career was a victim of a fickle industry in a pre-#MeToo era that marginalized (and still does) female actors, especially as they age and pass their respective industry-defined Last Fuckable Day. Grahame’s career dimmed along with the limelight, making her a little known actress that not even the Baby Boomers may remember; but perhaps one of the great accomplishments of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is that it may ignite viewers’ curiosity about Gloria Grahame and her accomplishments.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is an emotional rollercoaster based on Grahame’s last years before her death at the age of 57 and her relationship with Peter Turner who was 30 years her junior. Gloria Grahame is played by none other than Annette Bening, who at the age of 60 is bringing sexy back. Bening shines! The role gives her an opportunity to be vulnerable, and confident at the same time. Her depiction of Grahame is based on Bening’s study of Grahame’s work and this gives her performance a bittersweet undercurrent. Turner is played by Jamie Bell (little Billy Elliot) who dances his way into Grahame’s last years, and if the memoir is to be believed, as her last real love. The chemistry between the pair, and their incredible talent is reason enough to see the film. Their love affair is refreshing in the same way in which it eschews aside age a la Harold and Maude, only not as funny. That isn’t to say that there aren’t some funny moments, there are indeed, it’s just a different genre of storytelling. Joining the fabulous pair are also Julie Walters as Bella, Billy’s—I mean, Peter’s mom; and a cameo by Vanessa Redgrave as Jean, Grahame’s mom. Walters and Redgrave are in top acting form, adding that je ne sais quoi to Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, that is as magical as the Hollywood itself.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool has all the raw and refined talent in the world, magical sets, transcontinental charm, a diamond in the rough when it comes to source material, and a love story to boot, and yet, it falls short. The story development is shallow, as if the story is the author’s personal fantasy that he knows very well and expects the viewer to be on the same page by osmosis alone. The filmmakers can’t be bothered with key details about Grahame as a real person, about her struggles and other relationships. Timelines are mere suggestions, and even the dynamics of the relationship between Grahame and Turner are undeveloped and suspended in an unfulfilling fantasy. The filmmakers rely on the acting talent alone, which is great, but not enough because without a strong and complex storyline, the film doesn’t transcend beyond the emotional rollercoaster, making Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool enjoyable but unmemorable.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
R for language, some sexual content and brief nudity
Monday May 14, 8:00 PM