How can a movie have such an incredible cast and such superb acting and still sink to mediocre? Poor screenwriting, I’d answer. Film reel credits for Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, and Julie Walters entice and draw us in, only to have us wonder why anyone cares about a true story of an aging narcissist. Gloria Grahame is our subject. Grahame was in over 38 films, and was nominated for the Oscars’ “Best Supporting Actress” twice. She was married four times, and scandalously married the son of her second husband.
The film “ Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” centers on another relationship with a much younger man, three decades younger. Peter Turner’s story is the crux of the film. He accepts her, loves her, and is hurt by her. She is diagnosed with breast cancer, keeps it from him, but when it reoccurs she seeks solace with his, the Turner, family in Liverpool.
The 1951 sex scandal aftermath and Gloria’s four word acceptance utterance ( “Thank you very much” ) are screened. “ The Bold and the Beautiful” ( 1953 ) seemed to be the title of her life story. Bening does not play to type here. Gloria is obsessed with her looks, spends much of her time before the mirror, and generally is unlikeable. Her painful descent into stomach cancer includes a scene where she asks Peter to burp her. Flash back to their earlier flirty days makes the depressing demise of the deluded star bearable, but just. We see them viewing ‘Alien” together.
Peter is an actor too. They talk about the craft. Gloria likes monologues because, “ you get to say all the lines”. She confesses that she would have liked to have played Shakespeare’s Juliet. One of most touching scenes has Peter taking the sick Gloria on a field trip where they sit on stage and perform a scene as Romeo and Juliet. It is sad, heartfelt, and a balance from sex, sin, and salvation where they watch reruns of her old movies on red sheets.
Gloria spends a lot of time ordering Peter around. She sends him to health food stores for apricot kernels and black grapefruit juice. She refuses to call any of her four children, all as young as Peter. She continues to be demanding, hyper-sensitive , and distant. Peter lovingly packs her suitcase for her death trip to NYC., and she leaves a headshot from her earlier days for him on the chenille bedspread.
The sound track is abysmal. When we hear “slip, slipping away” the gag reflex hits. “You really got a hold on me” makes us yell out the question, “why?”. This film never makes the attraction clear.