UK Release Date: 16th November 2017
Runtime: 106 minutes
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writer: Matt Greenhalgh
Starring: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Julie Walters, Stephen Graham, Vanessa Redgrave, Kenneth Cranham, Frances Barber
Synopsis: An ageing Hollywood star meets an ordinary man from Liverpool and they begin a tender romance, despite the myriad differences between them and her crippling illness.
Hollywood often serves up tales of men dating women decades their junior. Roger Moore was almost 30 years older than Tanya Roberts when he romanced her in dismal Bond film A View to a Kill. Denzel Washington is almost always considerably older than the women he appears alongside, the same is true of Tom Cruise, and the less said about Woody Allen‘s creepy age gaps, the better. It’s rare, though, to see an age gap romance on the big screen that goes the other way and it’s that which gives Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool an unusual feel. Unfortunately, the film is a gentle tale that never really raises the pulse.
It’s a simple story, but one told with infuriating cinematic complexity. When we first meet Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), she is a long way from the bright lights of Hollywood, collapsing backstage at a play she is doing in the UK. Scouse actor Peter (Jamie Bell) gets a call informing him of what has happened, given his intimate connection with Gloria. A series of flashbacks, shuffled like a magician’s pack of playing cards, tell us about the way in which these two people are connected and trace Peter’s care for A-lister Gloria at the modest home in Liverpool he shares with his mum (Julie Walters) and family.
The film’s decision to weave together its multiple timelines is a bizarre one given the fact the action spans just a couple of years and it has a disorientating effect. Sherlock director Paul McGuigan and Nowhere Boy screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh can be forgiven for exercising a little cinematic flair in the telling of this story, but a more simplistic approach would’ve allowed the material to boast a better steak to sizzle ratio. We are asked to invest an awful lot in this relationship immediately, despite the fact we haven’t seen much of them together at all. The ambiguous question of Gloria’s illness is also lost in this particular shuffle.
That’s not to say that Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is entirely without merit. Given a plum role, Annette Bening really sparkles. She brings the magnetism of a classic Hollywood legend to the screen and holds the camera as if she was born to be there, complete with a singsong, near-whisper of a voice that’s more than a little reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe in her prime. Jamie Bell’s work is more understated, but has a quiet power when required.
It’s the listless direction from McGuigan, last seen at the helm of the hideous Victor Frankenstein, that ultimately dooms the film, which unfolds at a snail’s pace and fails to bring any passion to the romance. The film never gets above a resting heartbeat, despite the supposedly intense relationship at its core. Bening and Bell have something of a spark between them, but there’s never enough life in the story, or at least the way it is told, for that spark to ignite.
Pop or Poop?
Paul McGuigan has served up another subpar movie with Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, which fails to capitalise on the potential of its fascinating true story. Instead, the film delivers a series of disorganised flashbacks that hold back the narrative and cast a veil over the solid central performances.
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