There’s a new Mrs. Robinson in town – Annette Benning and Jamie Bell make for an unusual coupling, but they’re still one hundred times more convincing lovers than the Fifty Shades pair.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Aspiring young actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) discovers that his former lover, fading and aging Academy Award-winning actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Benning) is back in his home town of Liverpool. He soon learns she’s hidden from him the fact that she’s become severely unwell, though Gloria herself can’t seem to come to terms with the reality that she may not have much longer to live. As Peter takes her into his family home to care for her, he reminisces on their relationship, from the rosy days of their meeting and falling in love, to the rougher patches that caused the two actors to split.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool represents a maturing and an unexpectedly serious turn for at least two of its main players. Director Paul McGuigan, who has previously worked on iffy fare such as Lucky Number Slevin (2006), Push (2009) and the dreadful Victor Frankenstein (2015), does a complete 180 to craft a slow, sophisticated and emotional acting showcase. It’s the stuff that award voters gush over.
The other revolutionary turn is Jamie Bell (The Eagle, Fantastic Four), who truly stuns in going against type. Abandoning the macho action brute he’s carved out for himself over the course of his career, his sensitive portrayal of the clucky, optimistic young man who falls head over heels for an older lady harkens way back to his breakout role in Billy Elliot nearly eighteen years ago. Bell completely sells the unconditional love Peter holds for Gloria, making the romance between a couple nearly thirty years apart in age feel unbelievably natural.
Matching him is the legendary Annette Benning, the lone American in a sea of Brits. She’s simply a joy to watch as the late, great femme fatale; dizzily optimistic and endearingly not-all-there as her vision of superstardom triumphs over all in her eyes. It’s tempting to think that Benning drew comparisons between the character and her own career, which was once very much in the limelight, but has faded somewhat as she’s aged. Like Gloria though, she’s gifted the opportunity to prove she still shines brightly in her twilight.
The crackling chemistry of the two leads carries the film and gives it great heft, as without these two brilliant performances McGuigan’s film is a fairly basic semi-biopic, with the material based on Peter Turner’s memoir. Even with its patches of greatness, there’s no escaping the somewhat lax story and its overly-sentimental overtones that don’t quite make this the tearjerker it is trying so hard to be. That said, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool handles its material with a great deal of respect and restraint, and is a commendably pleasant, funny and involving experience.
Films Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is available in Australian cinemas from March 1
Image courtesy of Transmission Films