In the faded-legend biopic Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, [Annette] Bening has been able to re-access [film star Gloria Grahame’s] legacy and flesh it out with three subsequent decades of dwindling, smouldering stardom. Having paid homage to Grahame in her prime, she plays her at the fag end here of a fast-burning life.
It’s a dreamy comeback for Scottish director Paul McGuigan, who showed such dangerous promise back in the Gangster No. 1 (2000) days. […] [The] film truly lights up when its leads [Bening and Jamie Bell] are circling each other. Their age gap is unspoken until the moment it isn’t […]. Their first few dates – a Saturday Night Fever-style dance-off in Gloria’s lounge, a trip to see Alien – are […] tentative and disarming […].
It’s no surprise that Bening is in her element here, following a run of performances whose tiny flickers of wit and detail have taken her – dare we suggest – beyond Meryl Streep in layered understanding of the women she’s given to play. Had the film simply been The Annette Bening Show, we’d certainly have coped. But she’s matched every step of the way by Bell, in a flat-out career-best performance achieved so naturally it’s a marvel. He’s not just sweet, doting, and sprightly, with that boyish charm turned up to 11, but profoundly vulnerable […].
Tim Robey, The Telegraph