By the time actress Gloria Grahame passed away in 1981 at age 57 she was largely forgotten. A new film, “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool,” aims to remind of us of the Oscar winner’s—she won the Best Supporting Actress award in 1952 for The Bad and the Beautiful—life, legacy and love.
When we meet Grahame (Annette Bening) she’s in the “whatever happened to” phase of her career. Hollywood is a distant memory and she’s now trading on whatever cache her name still holds, performing “The Glass Menagerie” in English regional theatres. Ailing, she calls on Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a former lover and much younger man who once moved to New York to be with her. He’s now back at home in working-class Liverpool, struggling to make it as an actor.
As Grahame becomes sicker and sicker the movie moves along a fractured timeline to tell the story of their love affair and how sickness shattered their bliss and eventually brought them together again.
Director Paul McGuigan uses some slick camera tricks to jump around in time from the first blush of their relationship to the end and every point in between. Doors open in the present to reveal a scene in the past. It’s showy but dreamy, as though we are hopscotching through Peter’s memory.
Bell is a sweet, sensitive and thoughtful boy-toy whose sparks with Bening. He’s very good but this is Bening’s movie. Her Grahame is a wonder, effervescently flirty one second, frail the next. She is the keeper of a heartbreaking secret agenda and a vain woman facing the abyss. It’s remarkable stuff that sits comfortably alongside her stellar recent work in “The Face of Love,” “20th Century Woman” and “Rules Don’t Apply.”
“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” is a three Kleenex film that will make you want to go back and check out Grahame’s real life movies. If you haven’t already, check her out as the temptress with an eye for James Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” or as Ado Annie in Oklahoma! She was a great talent and Bening does her justice.