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New Release Review - FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL review
The story of the relationship between Gloria Grahame and Peter Turner.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Paul McGuigan

Starring: Jamie Bell, Annette Bening, Stephen Graham, Julie Walters, Vanessa Redgrave

FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL poster


Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is the latest addition to what I like to call the 'plebs and celebs' genre. In such films, an ordinary Joe Soap gets to spend time with an iconic celebrity, usually a movie star. Generally, the celeb will be suffering from some sort of demons, a side effect of fame and insecurity, and will, for a short time at least, find grounded comfort in the company of a member of the great unwashed. Recent examples include Life (James Dean), My Week with Marilyn (Monroe) and Set Fire to the Stars (Dylan Thomas).

FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

Based on Peter Turner's memoir, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool explores the relationship between Turner (Jamie Bell), a struggling British actor, and Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), one-time Oscar winner and Hollywood megastar. The two meet when a fifty-something Grahame moves to London in the late '70s in an attempt to reboot her career in British theatre. The romance is sparked with a meet cute in which Grahame asks the twenty-something Turner to join her for a bout of disco dancing in her room in their London boarding house, a far cry from the glamorous Tinseltown lifestyle Grahame has previously been accustomed to.

The two fall head over heels for each other, though initially Turner has no idea just how big a star his new girlfriend once was. However, Grahame is keeping a big secret from her lover - she's been diagnosed with Cancer and has stubbornly refused to accept chemotherapy, as it will make her famous locks fall out.

FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

It's becoming an annual tradition for Bening to deliver a cracking performance that gets overlooked in the Awards season jumble. She really is outstanding here, nailing Grahame's uniquely aloof manner (see her notorious Oscar acceptance, as played at this movie's conclusion) without ever falling back on an imitation. If Bening is snubbed once again it won't be through any fault of her own; rather the blame will lie at the feet of a film that really doesn't deserve her talents.

As the straight man to Bening's neurotic diva, Bell is equally excellent - watch how he performs a scene in which he receives bad news over the phone - but both actors are trapped in a fidgety mess of a movie that never gives them time to breathe. Employing a flashback structure - one which at times confusingly contains flashbacks within flashbacks - Paul McGuigan's film irritatingly refuses to ever settle down and let us get to know the two personalities at its core. I came away having learned more about Turner's kinship with his family (who seem to be modelled on the Liverpudlian clan from Carla Lane's Bread, with Julie Walters providing the film its heart as Turner's mother) than his relationship with Grahame The movie's most romantic scene features a loving embrace, not between Turner and Grahame, but between the actor and his brother (Stephen Graham, channelling Harry Enfield with a laughable scouse mop). Bizarrely, we're denied witnessing the moment when Turner first introduced Grahame to his working class family, which surely could have fuelled an entire movie on its own.

FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL

Structurally, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is all over the shop. Information is at times relayed twice, with flashbacks arriving a half hour after the point where they would have made more narrative sense. If movies were still projected on 35mm, I might have begun to wonder if the projectionist hadn't gotten the reels mixed up. Assuming its audience won't be familiar with Grahame, it's patronisingly didactic in how it relays the main talking points of the star's life. Sorry Annette, but this isn't going to be your year.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool is in UK/ROI cinemas now.



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