Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

Film-Stars-Dont-Die-in-Live Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool  (2017)    Sony Pictures Classics/Drama    RT: 106 minutes    Rated R (language, some sexual content, brief nudity)    Director: Paul McGuigan    Screenplay: Matt Greenhalgh    Music: J. Ralph    Cinematography: Ula Pontikos    Release date: January 26, 2018 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Kenneth Cranham, Stephen Graham, Isabella Laughland, Vanessa Redgrave, Frances Barber, James Bloor, Leanne Best, Tom Brittney, Peter Turner.

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 Try and bear with me; I promise you I’m making a point. Who remembers The Hi-Lo Country (1998) and All the Pretty Horses (2000)? It’s okay if you don’t; they’re both fairly forgettable. I remember them mainly because I thought they’d be nominated for Academy Awards in their respective years. Neither one of them earned a single nomination. They were both pretty lame actually. I bring up these movies as a way to describe how I feel about Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. It has all the signs of an Oscar bait film but fails to deliver on its promise. For the record, it didn’t receive a single nomination*.

film star dont die in liverpool Directed by Paul McGuigan (Victor Frankenstein), Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool centers on the relationship between aging movie star Gloria Grahame (Bening, American Beauty) and much younger stage actor Peter Turner (Bell, Billy Elliot) circa 1979-81. It opens in ’81 when Grahame collapses moments before a performance of The Glass Menagerie at a Lancaster theater. It turns out she has cancer and not long to live. Instead of staying in hospital, she asks to be taken to the home of Peter (now her ex) and his working-class family. The movie jumps back and forth between her fling with Peter and her current situation. The two first meet in a shabby London boarding house where they’re both staying. Grahame, in full vamp mode, invites Peter into her room to disco dance. The attraction is immediately evident. After a date to see Alien (yes, they show the infamous stomach-burst scene!), they embark on a tumultuous but loving relationship.

 Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool features solid performances from both leads. I’m a little disappointed Bening did get an Oscar nod for her depiction of the actress in her final years but 2017 was a particularly strong year for lead actresses. She had a lot of competition. I still think it’s a crime she hasn’t yet won a golden statuette. As Grahame, Bening projects equal amounts strength and vulnerability. Bell gives his best performance since Billy Elliot. He plays Peter with a great deal of depth. Julie Walters (Paddington) is also quite good as Peter’s mother who comes to care for Grahame as if she was her own.

 The problem with Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is that it’s not all that interested in its subject. It comes off as indifferent. The movie itself is rather lifeless. Also, we don’t get much in the way of background. The film shows little in the way of Grahame’s early history as an Oscar-winning actress who once lived next door to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (“Bogie and Betty”). The whole time, I was asking myself why I should care about this relationship. I could not become emotionally invested in the film. McGuigan keeps the audience at arm’s length.

 As much as I wanted to like Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, I couldn’t get into it. Simply put, it’s a bore. It wants to be an intimate drama about a celebrity at the end of her life but ends up doing its subject a real disservice by not reflecting on her body of work. Why is she famous? What movies is she known for? You get a few details but not enough to make you care. For all its good intentions, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a real disappointment. Movie addicts can relax and wait until the DVD comes out. It’s a glorified made-for-TV movie.

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