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Liverpool Not Worth the Trip

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By John Black

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It’s probably not the reaction that director Paul McGuigan was looking for from audiences watching his new film, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, but it’s hard not to want the film star to do just that as the film plods along.

Written by Matt Greenhalgh and based on a memoir by Peter Turner, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool tells the story of an aging and cancer-stricken Hollywood actress named Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) who decides that she wants to spend her final days rekindling a May/December love affair she had with a much younger man named Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) the last time she was in the city where The Beatles hail from. After a bumpy start, the unlikely couple, whose screen chemistry rates a grade of F-, join the audience in settling in for an hour or so of gauzy flashbacks, old wound opening, teary forgiveness and the strangely unsettling site of Julie Walters wearing an absolutely ghastly wig in her role as young Peter’s mom.

Oddly, about the only thing one remembers a day after watching the movie is the wig…and, perhaps, Bening’s breathy way of reciting her lines (when she’s not being an out and out bitch) which makes her sound like a cheap Marilyn Monroe impersonator who just finished running up a long flight of stairs. That voice, it seems, is supposed to make us (or Bening) harken back to the days when Gloria Grahame made a career on the big screen playing vamps, tramps and other assorted badly scripted B-girls in movies whose titles she drops to whoever is listening. What might have worked in her past and may even help old fans remember who she is when they meet her in the present, however, makes her sound far too vapid in McGuigan’s film. Bening tries her best to balance the banal by giving Gloria a sharper edge when she gets angry at Peter for being nice to her, but it’s way too little and far too late.

As the young man who has lost his heart to a woman old enough to be his mom, Bell brings little to the proceedings beyond a chiseled physique and a love of his own profile (future drinking games will be based on how often he broodingly stares off in the distance whether the scene calls for it or not). His only real job in the movie is to make us believe his character is totally in love with Gloria Grahame and the best he can do is look not bored.

As if he knows his actors aren’t up for the job, McGuigan (Lucky Number Slevin, The Acid House) uses a lot of cinematic tricks to make the story visually interesting, including giving many of the scenes the look and feel of a badly shot 1950s Hollywood film, but instead of drawing you into the story they only push you out to the point where you are far more fascinated with the style of the movie than you are of the substance. Unfortunately, there’s too little of both – style and substance – to make the trip to Liverpool worthwhile.


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