By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
During the 1940s and 50s, actress Gloria Grahame became well-known for her portrayals of film noir vixens. Her performance in Crossfire would earn her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination , while her performance in The Bad and the Beautiful would win that particular Oscar. Though she often played strong-willed, seductive women, Grahame would eventually struggle to keep working in the male-dominated Hollywood system. Her troubled personal life would also overshadow her achievements in cinema. In her latter years, the struggling actress lived in London, England where she found work in stage plays, but would also face serious health problems. Scottish director Paul McGuigan’s new film covers these latter years of Grahame’s life where she found love and friendship, but would also succumb to her illness.
During the late 1970s, a young and ambitious Liverpudlian actor named Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) would meet screen legend Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and his life would never again be the same. Though a twenty-eight year age difference separates the two, Turner and Grahame share an instant bond of attraction upon their first meeting. Gloria Grahame may have been known as a Hollywood legend at one time, but Peter would never really know or see this side of her. He would only fall in love with the beautiful, vulnerable and loving woman she could be. They would soon begin a romantic relationship that eventually gets derailed when Grahame suffers a relapse of cancer.
Fans of classic Hollywood stories might be disappointed that Film Stars Don’t Die in Hollywood only covers a small portion of Gloria Grahame’s life and career, but honestly, that material should have a movie of its own. Grahame did live a fascinating, dramatic and turbulent life during her heyday, but Paul McGuigan’s film is not really about that. Written by Matt Greenhalgh, based on the memoir of the same title by Peter Turner, this movie offers a deeply intimate portrait of a humbled woman, not a Hollywood star, from the perspective of her final lover and good friend. Though the movie does refer to her previous troubles in her life and her struggles to remain a successful Hollywood actress, this movie is all about Grahame, the real woman who won the heart of a younger man who knew little about her Hollywood days.
Greenhalgh’s solid script and McGuigan’s safe directorial choices might at times seem basic and uninspired, but I believe that this is intentionally done to not overshadow the tremendous talents of its stars. Both Annette Bening and Jamie Bell ably carry this movie and rightfully so, as it is all about their characters and the beautiful relationship they share. Bening delivers a performance that offers the genuine heart and vulnerability of Grahame during her final years, with a more subtle swagger and bravado that still remains within the more mature Hollywood vixen. Bell also shines as the young struggling actor who has never experienced Hollywood stardom and is captivated by Gloria Grahame’s radiant beauty and winning personality. The two actors share some truly wonderful moments on the screen together and their relationship is truly romantic, enthralling, and eventually heartbreaking. The movie also can boast wonderful work and memorable appearances by Julie Walters, Stephen Graham, Vanessa Redgrave, Isabella Laughland, and Frances Barber.
I am disappointed that Annette Bening and Jamie Bell only received minimal accolades in the US, as their performances genuinely make this movie extraordinary. That is not to say that the writing and direction are lackluster, but it is the acting by the leads that really make this film stand out. It is for this main reason that I highly recommend this film, but I also feel that this poignant and beautiful relationship story deserves to be told. Gloria Grahame’s turbulent Hollywood life and career definitely would make a fascinating film, but that would be best told in a different film.