Early to the Theater – Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool Review

Recently Jen and Achariya have been fortunate enough to review films prior to wide release. We’re very excited about today’s entry, a screener that Jen received from Sony Pictures Classics. As always, the basic, spoiler-free review will appear above the cut, and more in-depth analysis below. And as always, Jen was not paid or compensated for this review in any way. 

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Based on a memoir of the same name, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is a powerful, layered romance that is honestly quite difficult to sum up at a glance. Fading American film star Gloria Graham, weakened by illness, is looked after in her last few months by her former lover, a man thirty years younger, and his working-class Liverpool family in 1981. Through a series of flashbacks the audience discovers what brought the unlikely pair together and what ultimately tore them apart. I haven’t read the book so I’ve no idea how much it differs, if at all, from the film.

Annette Benning plays Graham in a knock-out performance. She has already been nominated for several critics’ awards and it wouldn’t surprise me to see her nominated for an Oscar, although the fact she’s not nominated for a Golden Globe seemed a crime. With masterful subtlety, Benning reveals Graham in layers as the story unfolds; she presents a breathy voiced and starry eyed ingenue to her public and the outside world, which is of course why Peter Turner, played by Jamie Bell, falls in love with her;  when stressed she becomes shrill and manic at times, such as when Turner mentions her age or crosses any of the invisible lines she’s drawn for him; and lastly, reserved and fragile when she finally accepts that her prognosis is terminal and weighing heavily on her loved ones.

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I may be biased, because their first date is to see ALIEN. 

Although the May-December relationship premise of an older female film star and a young male lover is familiar, it would be disingenuous to compare this film to say, Sunset Boulevard. Obviously the relationship here was based on true events, and the story elements are so novel that they feel fresh. Before I realized it was a biography, I found myself wondering precisely that, since truth is stranger than fiction and the characters and settings felt so weirdly solid. Kenneth Cranham plays Peter’s father, delightful in sweater vests and owlish glasses.  Julie Walters (best known as the Weasley matriarch from the Harry Potter movies) puts in an amazing performance as Peter’s mother Bella, who helps him look after Gloria when the latter becomes bedridden. Vanessa Redgrave shines in a small but riveting role as Gloria’s mother.

As as aside before we get to the spoilers – I’m hoping the great Hollywood purge of sexist shitbags occurring right now will make room for more filmmakers and films like this one. In an early scene where Graham is warming up for her performance by blowing air through her lips, the camera lingers in close-up on her mouth every wrinkle and line is on display. It was a bold creative choice, the sort that wouldn’t have a place in a film-making atmosphere dominated by toxic masculinity. Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool was directed by Paul McGuigan (who among other TV hits directed 2 episodes of Luke Cage!) and was produced by the legendary Barbara Broccoli.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool had a limited US release last year and seems to mostly be playing the film festivals. I hope it does well and receives a wide release.

Continue reading “Early to the Theater – Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool Review”

One Hit At a Time!

Some of these are things I can do something about. Some of them are things I must accept and deal with to the best of my ability. As anyone who has read Slaughterhouse-Five or been through recovery knows, the important thing is knowing the difference.

I had not intended these check-ins to become a regular feature, but life piles up and here we are.

Here is the Current State of Affairs in the Benevolent Dictatorship of Jennsylvania.

The Good:

  • I have been writing almost 3k words a night for the last week, not including blog posts. I also have some places I want to send my fiction and nonfiction writing. I attended a cool spoken word performance Saturday night, am going to a writer’s group with friends Tuesday night, and to another writing group Wednesday night. Writing and I have our teeth in each other again, and neither is backing down.
  • I am working out with coworkers in the parking lot after work. I forgot my workout clothes but don’t care, I’ll do it barefoot in my work capris and blouse. We do calisthenics and kettlebells like the wild savages we are, and it’s AWESOME.
  • I am going out of town this weekend for my family reunion. I’ve made Herzog’s appointment to be boarded at the vet, and  must remember to pack his favorite toys, something to snuggle, and a bag of spinach as a treat because he is a very strange cat.
  • I have to make something to take to the reunion, so I am making the Pioneer Woman’s Green Bean Casserole recipe. I made it a few years ago for the holidays and it was a big hit.
  • I have a new blue dress for the reunion and it is cute. I am excited.

The Bad:

  • Some fucko stole some personal information and tried to use to it to file a false tax return. This is coming JUST as I have paid off some major debts and a light appeared at the end of the tunnel. So help me, the light will not turn out to be the dumpster fire of some jackwad ruining my credit. NO SIR. I put fraud alerts on my accounts.
  • This might be the tip of an iceberg of a bigger problem. I am being VERY careful.
  • Because of a snafu with my insurance, I may have to find a new therapist. I go to a therapist once a month to check and make sure my head is staying on straight, and now I must either change after 3 years and get a referral, OR I could keep going to her and paying her whole fee out of pocket, which I can’t afford.
  • I have been loaned to another project at work, so I have two different projects to keep up with right now.

The Ugly:

  • THREE separate friends are battling cancer in various forms. All I can do is be there for them, cook them healthful meals, and offer them rides and a shoulder when they need it, but what I wish most fervently is for cancer to magically take human form so I can take it apart with my bare hands. THE THINGS I WOULD DO TO IT.
  • The news is depressing as shit and I have all but given up on keeping up with it in depth, and just follow sound bites which is the worst way to follow news.

How We Do

Some of these are things I can do something about. Some of them are things I must accept and deal with, to the best of my ability. As anyone who has read Slaughterhouse-Five or been through recovery knows, the important thing is knowing the difference.

I am strong enough to weather the things I cannot change.

And as far as the things I CAN change…

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… Around here, we take those problems One. Hit. At. A. Time.