Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Film Stars Don’t Come to San Diego…unless it’s for the San Diego International Film Festival, where I was lucky enough to meet Annette Bening and her husband Warren Beatty a few years ago. I was underwhelmed by her last film — 20th Century Women. And Beatty’s movie on Howard Hughes (Rules Don’t Apply), showing Hollywood in the early ‘60s, just didn’t work. This looks at an actress in the early ‘80s, who was a star in the ‘50s, is my favorite movie of the year. Sure, the year is only three weeks old, but it’ll certainly make my Top 10 list at the end of the year; and Bening will get an Oscar nomination for this part, which is the best performance I’ve seen from an actress in years. Her co-star Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) wasn’t chopped liver, either.

The film is based on Peter Turner’s memoir of the same name, and is directed by Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin).

The story is about Hollywood star Gloria Grahame (It’s a Wonderful Life), a classic beauty in the ‘40s and ‘50s, who decided to revive her career doing Shakespeare in London. I knew nothing about Grahame and that made the movie more interesting as it unfolded. It’s not a biopic that tells you everything about her life, but we learn about four marriages (one to the stepson of husband number three), and about her career in film and TV. The script, which has tenderness, is a bit thin, but it provided the type of experience I love at the movies.

Turner is a stage actor in Liverpool that meets Gloria when she’s practicing dance moves in a house in North London. They quickly fall for each other.

You wonder what Turner’s parents (Kenneth Cranham and Julie Walters) will think of this older women. Well, they’re fans of her work. In one scene, the dad is giving advice to his son in a pub. He’s talking about being a fan, and also talking about her going to the doctor for a sickness. It’s way more powerful than the much heralded father/son scene in Call Me By Your Name.

Another solid member of the cast is the always brilliant Stephen Graham (Snatch, Pirates of the Caribbean). He’s the angry brother, and his character just melts my heart in one powerful scene.

Vanessa Redgrave shows up in an interesting scene as well.

Julie Walters and Bening show how you can give a tremendous performance on screen with a mere facial expression. Bening nails that old Hollywood starlet voice that reminds you of Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe, and from the old clips I’ve seen — Gloria Grahame (although she’s not a household name to most people).

Speaking of Monroe, the movie did remind me a bit of My Week With Marilyn.

It’s surprising how many emotional moments there are in this movie, and they always sneak up on you. One of those comes after you think you’ve had enough of Grahame’s horrible attitude, and a scene that follows takes the story in a different direction.

The soundtrack is also perfect. A score that evokes just the right emotions, and songs from Elton John, Velvet Underground, Taste of Honey, Irma Thomas, Clarence Carter, and the best use of Jose Feliciano since Fargo. We also get some terrific Elvis Costello; his classic Pump it Up and a new song — You Shouldn’t Look at Me That Way. I hope we see that nominated for an Oscar, too.

This story gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “star-crossed lovers.”

4 stars out of 5.