Annette Bening boosts an otherwise pedestrian romance

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool
Opens Friday 9
Roxy Theatre
3 out of 5

Gloria Grahame was a ’50s movie star with classic beauty and serious acting skills, but her main claim to posterity wasn’t one of her films (The Big Heat, Oklahoma). It was the fact she gave one of the shortest Oscar acceptance speeches on record: a quick “Thank you.”

But there was a lot more to Grahame than her taciturn public persona. The modest, competent Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool focuses on the actor’s later years when she was a working performer touring the UK with a small theatre company. Grahame meets a younger actor, Peter Turner (Jamie Bell, Billy Elliot), who is immediately taken with her. The age difference (nearly 30 years) is an issue, but the pair sidestep it for as long as possible. Why not? Old dudes do it all the time.

The often taken for granted Annette Bening is phenomenal as Grahame. She combines sweet naiveté, steely willfulness and disenchantment in a vanity-free performance. Jamie Bell matches Bening beat for beat as the nurturing Peter.

While Bell and Bening are a convincing couple, the rest of the movie doesn’t reach the same level of excellence. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool — which is based on Turner’s memoire — is well made and engaging but conventional, often recycling well-trodden biopic tropes (flashbacks to better times, self-serving portrait of the author), which undermine Bening’s superior performance. On the bright side, it’s the rare movie you can take your mom to.