Telluride: Annette Bening Makes Her Latest Oscar Bid With 'Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool'

The four-time nominee's standout turn comes in a film that may have too many problematic elements to survive deep into awards season.
Courtesy of Telluride Film Festival
Annette Bening and Jamie Bell in 'Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool'

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, a film about the May-December romance between the twentysomething aspiring actor Peter Turner and the fiftysomething Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame, had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on Saturday. The Galaxy Theatre was packed for the first screening of Paul McGuigan's adaptation of Turner's best-selling memoir of the same name, which was 22 years in the making, and McGuigan and leading man Jamie Bell were in attendance. Leading lady Annette Bening was unable to attend, since she is serving on the jury at the ongoing Venice International Film Festival.

The first wave of reviews turned up positive notices. Calling the movie "a sweet, sad love story," The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw wrote, "There is a great spark between Bell and Bening, and I think these are the most relaxed performances I have seen from either of them." The Hollywood Reporter's Stephen Farber said that Bening "captures the spirit of the complicated actress with remarkable subtlety and flair."

But, judging by audience's response at the Galaxy to Film Stars, which Sony Classics is expected to release later this year, those opinions weren't universal. For some, the film, while featuring impressive enough acting from its two leads and supporting actress Julie Walters, didn't really have enough of a plot to remain engaging for 105 minutes, or to hold its own in (inevitable) comparison to this year's higher-profile project about long-gone, old movie stars, FX's Emmy-nominated Feud: Bette and Joan. Essentially, it's the story of two people at very different points in their lives who find love for a brief period — without ever really making clear what draws them to each other, really addressing the oddity of their age-gap or adequately acknowledging Graham's bizarre relationship history.

This, obviously, is not the fault of Bell and Bening, who play their parts as well as one could hope. Bell convincingly conveys his character's interest in a woman his mother's age, which otherwise could have provoked chuckles. And Bening captures the essence of Grahame, from her baby-girl voice to her omnipresent pout, while getting to play some pretty showy scenes. Bening has accumulated four Oscar nominations over the course of her distinguished career, and she deserved a fifth last year for what was, in my opinion, a career-best turn in 20th Century Women. But she still lacks something that Grahame had: an Oscar itself. And, contrary to the hopes of her ardent fans, while her new film could generate awards attention, an ultimate Oscar victory may remain elusive.