Annette Bening doesn’t particularly resemble Gloria Grahame. Once we get over that, we can relax and take director Paul McGuigan’s hopeful romance Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool for what it is — a lightly likable character study of the last days of actress Grahame, whom fans of vintage melodramas and noirs may remember for her vivid performances in such pics as The Bad and the Beautiful, In a Lonely Place, and The Big Heat, in which her character has hot coffee thrown in her face.
Nothing quite that sensational happens here. Years after her Hollywood glamour days, the aging former sexpot (Bening) finds herself performing in a stage play in the title city, falls in love with a young local (Jamie Bell), and engages in amour fou until her health finally gives out. The screenplay, by Matt Greenhalgh from the memoir by Peter Turner, is a bit weak in the knees — not quite up to the finest material Bening has worked with lately (cf. 20th Century Women).
But the wonderfully artificial-looking sets have a charm of their own. The settings remind us of Terence Davies, the Liverpudlian maker of romantic dreamscapes à la The Deep Blue Sea. Davies might have been a better choice to direct. But we can still admire Bening’s sunset heartaches as a woman addressing the impossibility of happiness.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Directed by Paul McGuigan. With Annette Bening and Jamie Bell. Now playing.