Friday, December 29, 2017

Movie with Abe: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Directed by Paul McGuigan
Released December 29, 2017

A film’s title can communicate many things. A single word might refer to a memorable protagonist, central location, or important date or place in history. A longer title, like this film’s, is more of a phrase, one that can convey an overarching plot with quite a bit of specificity, like “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” or “James’ Journey to Jerusalem.” In the case of this drama, its title contradicts its story, with focuses on a film star who seems all but likely to die in Liverpool, chronicling the run-up to her final days spent with one particularly special person in her life.

Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) meets her much younger neighbor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) while living in 1970s England, and one flirtatious introduction leads to a passionate and deep relationship. Though Gloria’s friends can’t bear to see another man leave her after so many marriages and Peter’s family isn’t prepared to let him through away a promising career to be with a woman much older than him, the two share a connection that seems impossible to break, especially when, following their breakup, Gloria seeks Peter out when she learns that she is dying.

This is a film that zeroes in on a particular part of Gloria’s life, choosing one iconic relationship as the way to sum up and present her life story. It’s an approach that has been employed previously by “My Week with Marilyn” and “Me and Orson Welles,” adding depth to the spotlight of a film star by telling the story from the perspective of someone who lives in a different world far from fame and celebrity. What this means is that we see precious little of Gloria’s past and heyday as an actress save for clips from some of her films, and the only Gloria we get to know is one who’s already isolated from the world and hanging on to just one new person in it.

Bening is a formidable actress, and most expected that this could be an Oscar contender for her. She does manage to make her seem like a different character than the typical – and beloved – Bening archetype, imbuing her with a simple, sweet voice and quiet charisma, but the actress doesn’t feel truly immortalized on screen. Bell, reunited with his “Billy Elliot” costar Julie Walters, portraying his mother, contributes but is less than memorable. This film looks lovely in terms of its colors and costumes, and it feels a bit like a dream, but not like a fast-paced or engaging one. Once it’s over, a greater understanding of who Gloria was doesn’t feel like it’s been established.


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