Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
In the current awards season, Sony Pictures Classics has put the bulk (if not) all of its For Your Consideration efforts behind Call Me By Your Name.
Despite the dark horse chance of a Best Actress nomination for Annette Bening, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool has been almost completely ignored, and upon seeing the late-life romance between Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame (Bening) and the significantly younger aspiring actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), the shunning is mostly understandable.
Though a well-made and acted film, it’s too subtle to separate itself in an especially crowded year — and so here it arrives, one week before the Academy Awards, more as a generally pleasant detour than an example of what might have been.
Based on Turner’s memoir, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool holds true to its title, centering on the illness that would claim Gloria’s life in the early 1980s when the lovers reunited, while also flashing back to the late ‘70s to chronicle the start of their relationship.
The meet-cute and what follows between the young man and the older woman who played Violet in It’s a Wonderful Life are enchanting in their mannered ways, as are his exchanges with his parents Bella (Julie Walters) and Joe (Kenneth Cranham) and brother Joe Jr. (Stephen Graham).
The cast does what it can to build on these foundations when their bonds are tested through the return of a severely sick Gloria, and while their acting is strong in a play-like sense, they only receive a medium level of help behind the camera.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool features a somewhat odd choice in director with Paul McGuigan, he of the stylish action films Lucky Number Slevin and Victor Frankenstein, but who’s successfully melded that approach within more refined parameters helming multiple episodes of Sherlock.
Further synthesis of the two approaches is perhaps best seen through moving, artistic shifts as something in the present sparks a memory in Peter that he then enters within the same shot and later exits in similar fashion.
Also along the lines of revisiting the past is a touching late-film stretch where a previously shown and seemingly straightforward rift that led to the couple’s breakup plays out from a different perspective, making the trajectory of their relationship more tragic though arguably necessary.
Grade: B. Rated R. Now playing at the Fine Arts Theatre
(Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)