Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool Review: Fading Stars Don’t Look Like Stars at All

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Like My Week With Marilyn before it, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool does an admirable job making you feel for an icon who’s fallen from grace—largely through a showstopping performance as said icon, this time from Annette Bening—but with too little meat surrounding it. Director Paul McGuigan has crafted a film that’s aesthetically drab until it finds a moment to use its location for all its worth. This is symbolic of how it tells its story as well: drifting from moment to moment waiting for Bening to knock our socks off as Gloria Grahame. And she does every time.

But one of the only great surprises within Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is Jaime Bell’s strong portrait as Peter Turner, Grahame’s far younger lover from the late 1970s until her death in 1981. The film in its entirety is about their romance, and Bening and Bell do boast an electric chemistry throughout. But there are strong story concepts hinted at here that could have made for a better film had they been explored. Grahame’s struggles as an aging actress in a Hollywood with no place for aging actresses always plays second fiddle to the cancer that’s already killing her. By focusing so much on the inevitability of her death, the film never gives us a chance to ruminate on what it was actually like to be the sort of “fallen star” Grahame had become.

At the same time, Turner, a struggling young actor himself, is never shown to have any reservations on dating someone who already had everything he might want, and then lost it through no other circumstance than a continuing life. Instead, we seem him just constantly infatuated, constantly caring, with his only struggle having been following Grahame’s naive attitude toward the end of her life. It’s the type of portrayal that, knowing the script is based off of his own memoir, comes across a little one-sided.

Unfortunately, McGuigan is only interested in the side of the story that shows a couple in love but separated by time and experience as they learn the inevitability of death. Bening is the only one who seems to take note of the fact that Grahame has lived a life of Hollywood glam, injecting as much history as she can muster into each expression. Otherwise, this is a disappointingly uncomplicated film that explores its themes no better or more interestingly than a lot of other films from this year. Grade: B-

By Matt Dougherty

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