2017 | 106 minutes | Rated R
Gloria Grahame was a real person—she won a best supporting actress Oscar in 1952 for The Bad and the Beautiful—but you don’t need to know that to appreciate Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, a dreamy glimpse into the final years of Grahame’s chaotic, beautiful life. Framed by her lengthy affair with a much younger actor, Peter Turner, and Grahame’s eventual death from cancer, Liverpool is based on Turner’s book of the same name. It’s a classic May-December romance, an old Hollywood tearjerker that’s also a little bit funny. This isn’t ambitious storytelling, but it’s done well—in large part thanks to the brilliant casting of Annette Bening and Jamie Bell as Grahame and Turner. Romances only succeed when you want the two leads to end up together, and I really did—even though I knew a third-act visitation from Death was coming—because Bell, for his part, matches Bening completely. I have loved him since his child-actor debut trading boxing gloves for sidewalk jétés in Billy Elliot. The role of Peter Turner is dangerous—it could easily just be flattened into Hot Guy on Famous Lady’s Arm, especially when that lady is Annette Bening, acting genius. But I can’t picture anyone else quite pulling it off the way Bell does: Turner’s sensitive, youthful straight man is a delightful counterpoint to Grahame’s swoopy self-mythologizing.
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