Gloria Grahame was a big name in black and white movies, always playing the tart, seducing the audience with her pout and her smoldering eyes. Now people have to search their memories for her name (or their mother’s memory, or their grandmother’s), but her star quality and talent remain.
Gloria (Annette Bening) recently moved in to a crummy flat in Liverpool to conquer the Royal Shakespeare Company and met a young man, Peter (Jamie Bell), willing to help her learn a new dance the kids are calling “disco.” Peter doesn’t seem to mind their age difference and can’t help but fall for her. And the attention of a younger beau is just the stuff Gloria’s ego needs (and perhaps she is not unaccustomed to being the December to someone’s May, perhaps it is her M. O.).
But as fantastic as it is for both the veteran and the struggling actor, there are problems, because the kind of relationship that begins and ends in someone’s neediness is not exactly healthy. They separate, but are drawn back together when Gloria falls ill and refuses to return home, or to contact her adult children. Peter cares for her in a delicate balancing act between her mortality and his desire. She can’t stand illness, or aging, or, worst of all, undesirability. And he hasn’t learned to let go.
This movie really messed with my head for a while – the editing is such that I wondered if I was watching a scrambled copy, or if I was stroking out. It’s not always the easiest to follow. Eventually I sort of matched its rhythm and stopped worrying about things like chronology and plot. I enjoyed getting to know Gloria Grahame, a real-life, Oscar-winning actress from Oklahoma and It’s A Wonderful Life. Annette Bening, it goes without saying, is wonderful. And I’m not going to sit here and tell you she’s still beautiful because that’s a crock of shit. Annette Bening is beautiful, period, and I hate this notion that aging somehow changes or diminishes that. But I also hate the belief that attractiveness equals worth. We have some pretty fucked up core beliefs in our culture and while this movie isn’t going to change them, it might just give you pause.
Jamie Bell is good also, and I enjoyed the irony in his character arc, that he’s actually the one who is, perhaps not visually aging, but certainly maturing. And since he’s a man, maturing = saying less dumb shit. But the proof is in my struggle to write this review, which I’ve had open for the past several weeks. The words aren’t coming because I didn’t really connect to it, despite it having several admirable working parts. As a biopic, it’s really rather basic. But Bening is its saving grace (with a quick shout-out to Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave, also stupendous) and some movies are worth watching for the performance alone.