Thursday, February 08, 2018

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

I am very glad that this one is getting at least part of a second week at Kendall Square (although with just early matinees, that basically means Saturday and Sunday for most people); it's a good movie that seems to have been counting on Oscar nominations to go wider, but didn't get them. That's a bit of a surprise; even though the Best Actress category was going to be tough to crack, I'd figure Hollywood liking movies about Hollywood might help out, and that Elvis Costello had a shot for best song. Not enough, apparently.

It's a shame, because I really liked what Bening did here, and considering that I've never been a particular fan of hers - didn't dislike her, but never considered going to a movie because she was in it - that's a pretty big feather in the film's cap. It's a genuinely nifty take on the movie' themes that could easily be too much but isn't. It surprised and delighted me early rather than necessarily having to sneak up on me, and while I don't know which way is ideal for a movie, this one certainly worked well enough for me.

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen on 6 February 2018 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

It's only reasonable to be somewhat skeptical about Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool; present-day Annette Bening doesn't quite recall the image of Gloria Grahame in one's head, and that is potentially a huge hurdle for the movie to get over, especially since a large part of the audience is people who do have an image of her in her 1940s-1950s heyday in their heads (as opposed to the later years of smaller roles and TV work). It works in large part because the filmmakers are able to use and subvert that dissonance, creating an oft-intriguing story of fighting and accepting the march of time out of it.

Gloria Grahame was, as one person in the film points out, a big deal in black and white in the early 1950s, even winning an Oscar, but not so much afterwards; in 1981 she collapses backstage in Lancaster, England. Her emergency contact turns out to be Peter Turner (Jamie Bell), a much less famous and much younger actor living with his parents (Julie Waters & Kenneth Cranham) in Liverpool. They bring her into the house to recuperate, which naturally causes Peter to reflect on how they met in London and became lovers two years previously.

The initial scenes where the audience meets Gloria as weakened and diminished - in obvious contrast to the thirty-year-old stills she keeps in her dressing room alongside inscribed gifts from the likes of Humphrey Bogart - are certainly jarring and imply a fairly familiar characterization, but screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh (working from the real-life Peter's memoir) and director Paul McGuigan have something a little different in mind. Instead of giving us the salty and jaded woman who has contempt for her naive younger self, the movie works because the filmmakers have Bening play it like the youthful Grahame of In a Lonely Place: coquettish and sly, with a breathy voice, like it's never really sunken in that she's not that girl anymore. It's a trick that can backfire, and that it doesn't is a testament to how good Berning's performance is - the audience can see not just Bening imitating Grahame, but Grahame imitating herself.

Full review at EFC

No comments: