Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
Annette Bening is a national treasure. The actress has been very picky with her roles, and she’s become all the more respected for it. Her most recent film gives her an incredibly juicy role that she makes the most of, even the if the film itself isn’t up on her level.
Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is the true story of a January-December relationship between veteran Oscar-winning actress Gloria Graham (Annette Bening) and the aspiring actor from Liverpool Peter Turner (Jamie Bell). The film jumps between their romantic years beginning in 1979 and switches to 1981 where Gloria stops to live with Jamie and his family in Liverpool due to a malady she got when performing theater nearby.
Bening is absolutely stellar here; the role of Gloria is written to be a bit bratty, but Bening makes her charming and alluring to the point where you see her airiness as façade she’s been forced to put up in order to survive Hollywood. The more impressive feat is that Bening managed to make such a three-dimensional character out of an incredibly bland and shallow script. There is a particular scene at the end that managed to bring me to tears; this actress’ prowess is simply something we will not be able to take full advantage of.
But apart from Bening the rest of the movie is rather flat. Bell as her co-star is quite fine, but he suffers from poor directing and the fact that the script gives him (our protagonist) absolutely no depth.
There are also big problems with certain technical aspects of the film, particularly the cinematography, which tried so hard to seem unique and original that it ends up annoying more than impressing. There were frequent shots that would pan around the set and we’d be in a different time and location in the story, and one scene was randomly lit purple. If there was some continuity to these choices, it would have been fine, but the problem is that the visual tone is all over the place. And then there was the production design, which used painted backgrounds so obviously; you can almost see the background ripple with a draft from inside whatever studio they were filming at.
Fortunately, Bening lifts this movie out of forgetfulness, but she can’t do it all, and this film’s overall result looks more like a professional athlete playing with some high schoolers.