Starring: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters
Director: Paul McGuigan
Running Time: 105 mins
Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is a British film about aging Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame, and her relationship with a young actor from a small family in Liverpool.
I was really rather disappointed with this film. Despite a strong cast and a fantastic premise, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is unfortunately a rather dull affair, complete with frustrating melodrama throughout that’s worsened by a disappointingly shallow central focus, while leads Annette Bening and Jamie Bell aren’t quite able to get the most out of their characters in a pair of less-than-stellar performances.
What’s most frustrating about this film for me is the fact that it tells a story that not only has great potential, but has already been demonstrated on numerous occasions to work really rather well, the best example of which is of course Billy Wilder’s classic Sunset Boulevard.
Now, while this film isn’t exactly the same as Sunset Boulevard, its central focus on an aging actress who once ruled the silver screen is cause for comparison, while the relationship that she strikes up with a younger man also brings the two films’ similarities to light.
The big difference, however, is that Sunset Boulevard provides a deeply moving and intimate portrayal of an old woman suffering heavily as she sees herself forsaken by all those who once claimed to love and adore her as an all-time great, even if she doesn’t show it outright. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, on the other hand, gives too much sympathy to the main character in that regard, and while it does demonstrate her distress in recognising her golden age is long gone, the suggestion that she can still find happiness in her romantic relationship or by recovering from her illnesses takes away from the brutal reality of her situation, which I was frustrated to see.
Annette Bening does a good job in the lead role, and although it’s not quite her best performance ever, due to some disappointingly melodramatic outbursts from time to time that take away from the real emotion, she does have a certain assurance and natural presence that make her an impressive lead all the same.
With regards to the central romance, Bening and her young lover Jamie Bell have decent chemistry, although it’s nothing that really convinces you of the depth and passion of their relationship. Again, in comparison to Sunset Boulevard, the relationship between Gloria Swanson and William Holden’s characters – while not romantic – is one that’s dealt with in depth right the way through, furthered by the pair’s excellent chemistry and the simple fact that they are so much more isolated on screen together from other characters, thereby reinforcing their unique bond.
In that, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool proved a hugely frustrating watch for me, as I saw a fantastic opportunity for a moving and deeply intimate drama disappointingly squandered in exchange for cheap and shallow melodrama that sees Bening and Bell play out a bizarre, jumbled and infuriatingly slow-moving romance over the course of an hour and a half.
The film isn’t awful, and there are positives to be taken, with some parts of the central performances, the period setting, and the fact that it is all a true story, but on the whole, it’s just not as impressive or deeply engrossing a film as it really could have been, and that’s why I’m giving Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool a 6.4 overall.