If film stars don’t die in Liverpool, it might be due to an act of divine casting and powdered color schemes. Yes, the color palette is pleasing and the overall aftertaste of “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” is a nice one, like taking a mint after a bitter coffee.
Though it certainly won’t reset the standard for lighthearted cinema or revolutionize your perspective on Shakespeare, it does something lovely for over ninety minutes; you don’t feel the need to do any heavy-lifting, because the material is simple and the more than capable cast handles it with grace. This is not a somber, frowning film. Straightforward, perhaps; it’s a neutral entry in a genre of love stories only believable in the medium of film, which is the point of this biographical narrative.
Based off his own memoir of the same name, Peter Turner’s first-hand account of his romance with Academy Award winning actress Gloria Grahame begins with a phone call. Turner (Jamie Bell), a 28-year-old actor living with his parents in, you guessed it, Liverpool, takes Grahame (Annette Bening) in after she falls ill before performing in “The Glass Menagerie” in Manchester, 60 miles from him, as he notes.
Grahame is noticeably older than Turner – she’s nearly 30 years his senior – but from the moment he admires her vocal warm-up gibberish through the doorway of her room, a whiff of ease provides all the likelihood age will not stop him from falling for her.
In between memories of visiting Grahame in Los Angeles and bickering with his family about caring for her in Liverpool, Turner and his role in this final chapter of Grahame’s life resemble a complex similar to that of Colin Clark from “My Week with Marilyn.” Both young men care for glamorous/once-glamorous movie stars by stroking their hair, defending their actions and giving them attention. The main difference is Grahame’s love for Turner is more steadfast than “the other one,” as Grahame’s mother (the always wonderful Vanessa Redgrave) tries to articulate over dinner in California. “You know, the one who slept with the president.” Also, this film embraces its pauses, moments of actors’ reactions and scripted applications of bathos.
Cut together with flashbacks to the early stages of their romance, “Film Stars” trusts itself to be ever-so-slightly dramatic, just like Bening’s Grahame, giving one of the film’s best performances (and sure to garner attention during awards season).
Written by Emilie Kefalas.