There are lots of buzz-worthy things about Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool: terrific performances by Annette Bening, Jamie Bell (remember him from Billy Elliot?) and a new song, “You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way,” by Elvis Costello on the soundtrack. But the thing we want to talk about is the May-December romance at the heart of the movie. The movie shares how actress Gloria Grahame’s scandalous life intersected with that of actor Peter Turner in the late 70s, when she was 54 and he was 26.
Bening is a force to be reckoned with—charming, flirtatious, beautiful, and most definitely approaching “woman of a certain age” status as she portrays Gloria Grahame, an actress who appeared opposite Jimmy Stewart and Humphrey Bogart. Bening and Bell have real chemistry, from their dance scene to “Boogie Oogie Oogie” to their intimacy on dates.
However, it’s hard to feel like this is the fabulous and normalizing older-woman-meets-younger-man relationship that movie-dom needs so badly. The film shares the story of their romance as Grahame hurtles towards the end of her life. She’s dying of cancer—the disease claimed her life when she was age 57. As her health declines, she seeks comfort with her ex and his family, and her charm is tempered with arrogance and denial of her medical condition. This tragedy makes it hard to revel in the connection Grahame had with her one-time boyfriend. While an engrossing movie, yes, but if we focus on the May-December relationship, one doesn’t come away feeling buoyed. Cancer and death have a way of doing that.
Instead, maybe we need to look at what’s going on in real life in Hollywood. Laura Dern, most recently in “Big Little Lies,” is 50 and reportedly dating a 38-year-old. Robin Wright, of “House of Cards” fame, is also linked to a significantly younger beau. A request of the entertainment industry: How about letting these serve as inspiration, and show relationships with bright futures for couples with this kind of age gap? Remember Keanu Reeves romancing Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give? More like that, please, and less of the Grim Reaper.
For that reason, we say bravo to Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.