• by Wes Singleton

Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, B

Rated R, 106 minutes

The touching, bittersweet romantic drama "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" is a true story of an aging Hollywood actress. Part romance and part biography, it's a treat for old-school cinephiles and features a terrific, luminous turn from Oscar-nominee Annette Bening, who shines in the lead role.

Once-famous Hollywood actress Gloria Grahame (Bening) finds romance and happiness with a younger man named Peter (Jamie Bell) later in her life, but her life changes forever when she is diagnosed with breast cancer.

The lovely, sentimental romance drama "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" is twinged with tragedy and sadness, underscored by the fact it's based on a true story. It's directed by Paul McGuigan ("Push") and written by Matt Greenhalgh ("Nowhere Boy") and is based on the memoir of the same name by Peter Turner, who's played by Bell as Turner's younger self, then a struggling actor in London who meets and falls in love with Oscar-winner Grahame, who was nearly 30 years older than Turner at the time of their romance.

The story has a few flaws, namely overusing flashbacks, but is held together by the earthy, inspired turn from Bening as Grahame, who appeared in such classic films in the 1940's and 1950's as "The Bad and the Beautiful" (for which she won an Oscar for), "Sudden Fear" and "Oklahoma" as well as Bell ("Snowpiercer"), touching as her much-younger lover.

Bening is an unusual choice for Grahame in part because of her usual deep voice, but she nails Grahame's higher pitch and feminine qualities that made Grahame a big star in Hollywood for a brief period. McGuigan is wise to use the real Grahame for older photographs and film clips, and the film is a sentimental tribute to her in the final moments when they show her Oscar win in 1953.

On the downside, McGuigan overuses flashbacks a little too much, and some aren't well-integrated into the film, which throws the the narrative off a little, especially in the film's somewhat disjointed final act. Still, Bening and Bell make it work nicely, and there are a handful of beautiful moments - you better have some tissues handy - particularly when Peter takes a dying Grahame to the Royal Shakespeare Theater to perform a scene from "Romeo & Juliet" with her.

Overlooked this awards season, the bittersweet and well-acted "Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool" is worth seeing for the strong performances from Bening and Bell, and they're well-supported by Oscar-nominee Julie Walters ("Mamma Mia!") and Kenneth Cranham as Peter's parents, who helped nurse Grahame when she was ill. The soundtrack, featuring original songs from Elvis Costello and Elton John and music by J. Ralph, is also a winner.

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