Rated: R for language, some sexual content and brief nudity. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: December 29, 2017 Released by: Sony Pictures Classics
Gloria Grahame's latter days are captured with a certain (rather garish when some interiors and garb are observed) panache by Scottish film and television director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin) set in the early Margaret Thatcher era which will mostly attract older distaff audiences who are into fare like the recent saluted small-screen series Feud (which starred Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon).
For even discerning cineastes Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool can be a bit unwieldy or hefty like its moniker having a feel of a predictable, often gloomy chamber piece, essentially a two-handler for that matter.
Yet, Annette Bening (20th Century Women, Being Julia, further back in Stephen Frears' The Grifters where that character isn't all that different from Grahame) turns on her thespian appeal as the legendary Oscar-winning, controversial Grahame who enjoyed the company of much younger men, or a boy in one noteworthy case. Her glory days on the silver screen were opposite icons like Humphrey Bogart (In a Lonely Place, besides co-starring in The Bold and the Beautiful, Oklahoma! and The Greatest Show on Earth, not to mention It's A Wonderful Life).
Her intense, quicksilver nature extends in part to this non-linear depiction based on the memoir of Peter Turner, a twenty-something who really seemed to understand the fading femme fatale of a movie star now in her late 50s even if their relationship went awry. After beginning so well together in dance.
A Liverpool suburb playhouse is where Grahame is about to appear only to collapse. Then, over at the Liverpool domicile of Turner (evinced with wit and compassion by Jamie Bell of Snowpiercer, Mister Foe, Jane Eyre) the young man learns of her saddening physical situation which prompts him to look back at their dalliance.
The cast is quite accomplished considering Vanessa Redgrave and Bell's winning Billy Elliot castmate Julie Walters, as Peter's mom. A cozy, lived-in feel is prevalent even if the scene shifts on occasion to New York and California. And, though Bening is nearly three decades Bell's senior the intimacy and laughter between Gloria and Peter resonates.
Some may wish the inevitable to happen sooner (peritonitis was part of what led to her 1981 demise) given the overall narrative flow, but Bening's vexations and vitality alternations still offers enough fascination against the honest rhythms of Bell. Perhaps enough so to keep even the strongest skeptic unexpectedly riveted.
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