Count me among those who will happily pay full admission for any film starring Annette Bening. From her best movies (20th Century Women) to the ones that were just OK (The Face of Love), Bening never disappoints. How it's possible she hasn't yet taken home a Best Actress Academy Award is beyond me. Her turns in American Beauty, Being Julia and The Kids Are Alright were all Oscar-worthy.
Bening's latest is Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, and for dyed-in-the-wool fans, it's a must-see. For anyone else, I'm afraid to say, it's a push. The main problem here is Bening plays a rather unseemly character who is difficult to root for. Film Stars is based on a 1986 memoir about Gloria Grahame (Bening) penned by a lover nearly 30 years her junior. The story, set in the 1970s, explores the final days of the Oscar-winning but long-forgotten Grahame, known for playing the femme fatale in 40s and 50s films (It's a Wonderful Life, The Bad and the Beautiful, The Big Heat), but who can't adapt to an ever-changing world. For example, the aging actress can't understand why the Royal Shakespeare Company won't cast her as an ingenue in Romeo and Juliet.
By the late '70s, Grahame had been married four times. One of her husbands, director Nicholas Ray, filed for divorce when he reportedly found her in bed with his 13-year-old son who, 10 years later, became Grahame's fourth husband. Then they were divorced, too. Film Stars concentrates on Grahame's final fling with a blue-collar British man, when she was 54 and he was 26. Grahame was riddled with cancer, but refused to acknowledge her diagnosis and continued to work in third-rate stage shows in the United Kingdom. Because "film stars don't die in Liverpool," her young lover, against her wishes, packs her up and sends her to New York City, where she died six days later.
The supporting cast of Film Stars is lovely. The performances of Vanessa Redgrave, Jamie Bell (the all-grown-up boy from Billy Elliot) and the always-wonderful Julie Walters are swell. Unfortunately, the combination of a sloggy screenplay from Matt Greenhalgh (Nowhere Boy) and uninspired direction from Pat McGuigan (TV shows Scandal, Smash and Designated Survivor) make this movie instantly unmemorable. Sigh. But rumor has it Bening has three more film projects in the works: contemporary dramas Life Itself and Georgetown, and an adaptation of Chekov's The Seagull, co-starring Saoirse Ronan. Rest assured, I won't forget to see them.