Thursday, December 14, 2017

“Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool”– Movie Review

film stars

This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new biographical drama, “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool”, starring Annette Bening. 


When Gloria Grahame looks up an old flame, is it to rekindle their romance or to save her life?


In 1979, Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) was a young Englishman who aspired to an acting career.  Living in a boarding house, he soon discovered that one of the other residents was Gloria Grahame (Bening), a once-famous American actress who is now long passed her prime.  With her career hitting the skids, she is now finding movie roles few and far between; as a result, Grahame is trying to kick-start her career by appearing in stage plays abroad.  When she meets Peter, her attention turns to snaring this much-younger man and they begin a very passionate affair.

When her time in England ends, Peter visits Grahame in America; the romance continues and he decides to put his acting career on hold just to be with her.  Although things pick up where they left off, Peter eventually begins to question his decision as Grahame slowly reveals her true self, albeit not necessarily by her own doing.  Grahame’s family reveals to him that she has a background of pursuing younger men.  Also, Peter sees her behavior as erratic when she instigates arguments with him and eventually forces him to return to England. 

A couple of years later, Grahame is back in England herself and Peter becomes aware of her return.  Going to visit her, she tells him that she’s sick and wants to live with Peter’s family so they can take care of her.  But after she moves in with his parents, Peter uncovers the truth:  Grahame was so unwell that she was hospitalized and left against medical advice.  It turns out that despite her attempts to trivialize her malady, she was quite ill – the doctor informs Peter that Grahame is dying from cancer.  Can Peter help to get Grahame the treatment she so desperately needs or is it now too late?


Watching “Film Stars … “, it’s easy to feel a little disconcerted.  For one thing, despite the fact that Annette Bening is portraying the late actress, the filmmakers use the actual likeness of Grahame at various points throughout the movie.  When still photographs of Gloria Grahame are shown on screen, they depict Grahame herself – not airbrushed pictures of Bening (or a younger look-alike) made up to look like her.  Also, there are video clips shown; one of Grahame in an old movie (“Naked Alibi”) and the other a televised clip of her accepting an Academy Award (for “The Bad And The Beautiful” in 1953).  In both cases, once again, it is Grahame and not a simulated version with Bening as Grahame’s younger version. 

Why was this done?  It’s not an unreasonable question.  Perhaps the answer comes down to money.  It might be that the film’s budget could more easily accommodate paying for the rights to the clips than to re-enact them with Bening (who likely would’ve had to be shot carefully so as to appear younger).  But the problem with this choice is that it can easily throw the viewer out of the “reality” of the story it’s trying to tell; you have to wind up mentally re-adjusting your view and realizing what transpired (“What just happened here and why was it done that way?”). 

While “Film Stars … “ isn’t awful, it’s little technical details like that which tend to distract the viewer and detract from the movie.  Another example would be its soundtrack.  Elvis Costello fans might appreciate the use of his songs, but putting that aside for the moment, the songs by various artists are not necessarily judiciously used.  Once you start becoming aware of the music and when it’s being utilized in a scene, then you suddenly realize that you’re not involved in the story.  That’s too bad.  Because the story “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” is trying to tell is rather unique. 

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool (2017) on IMDb

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