Behind The Candelabra (2013)

Behind The Candelabra (2013)

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"I hope my toupee doesn't shock you..."
“I hope my toupee doesn’t shock you…”

Twitter Plot Summary: The story of Liberace’s romance with Scott Thorson, based on the latter’s memoirs.

Genre: Biography/Drama/Romance

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Key Cast: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd, Debbie Reynolds, Tom Papa, Nicky Katt, Cheyenne Jackson, Paul Reiser, Boyd Holbrook, David Koechner.

Five Point Summary:

1. Hey, it’s Scott Bakula! Win!
2. Hey look, it’s a guy that looks
3. Rob Lowe. Best cameo ever.
4. Things are not going to end well, that much is obvious.
5. Not that you needed to know, but AIDS is bad mmkay?

The last person I’d expect to play Liberace in a film would be Michael Douglas. Actually, that’s a lie. Arnold Schwarzenegger as Liberace would probably be the most surprising piece of casting ever seen. In any case you get my point – Michael Douglas is a perennial alpha male, as seen in the likes of Romancing The Stone and Fatal Attraction. It’s refreshing to have an actor thus pigeonholed taking on a role that’s about as opposite as it gets. If nothing else it’s a talking point before you’ve even seen the film. Thankfully this excellent piece of casting is just the first in a long line of positive points in what director Steven Soderbergh is saying will be his last film.

Telling the story of Liberace’s relationship with Scott Thorson (and based on Thorson’s memoir of said events), we see their relationship go from the early giddy heights of new love to the slow decay of overfamiliarity and the contempt that often ensues. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are excellent as Liberace and Thorson, making the relationship believable despite being straight in the real world. Liberace is portrayed as an extremely complex character – he has deference for his elderly mother but hasn’t told her that he’s gay. He makes a number of promises to Thorson that ultimately prove to be untrue, yet Thorson is the one he calls when he discovers that he’s dying from AIDS. Clearly despite the later animosity there was deep feelings shared between the two of them. Thorson meanwhile is swept away by the glamour, the lifestyle and by Liberace’s winning, flirtatious personality. And, possibly, Scott Bakula’s moustache.

Why plastic surgery is a bad idea.
Why plastic surgery is a bad idea.

My screening of the film was mostly populated by old people and women, as if the target audience was likely to be anybody else. Ignoring cinephiles like myself, at face value there’s very little to recommend it to a male audience. At least we got a cinema release for it though – when it came to the US release of the film it didn’t even get a cinema run, instead it only aired on television. I think that says a lot about American audiences when a drama about a gay performer, and not even an explicit drama at that, can’t even get into cinemas. Admittedly it was always seen as a TV movie anyway thanks to HBO financing the project, but even so – if the international market gets a cinema run then why not give it the same treatment back home? Even a limited, small scale run just to test the waters perhaps?

Liberace had a thing for changing his young lovers to look like himself (the psychoanalytical subtext there is phenomenal), which eventually leads to them growing apart as Liberace starts visiting adult theatres and suggests they start seeing other people. It’s at this point that the story takes a slight dive in quality – the breakdown of their relationship, fine, there’s drama there. Seeing two men argue about their extravagant possessions is somewhat less engaging. As an audience we have a good idea within the first five minutes that thing won’t turn out perfectly for them. When Liberace first meets Thorson, he already has an “assistant” who has had excessive plastic surgery and is now the equivalent of an old toy, to be disposed of. As Thorson slowly starts to resemble this earlier assistant, we see the writing on the wall.

If there was an awards category for best cameo appearance in a movie then Rob Lowe would be the winner. His plastic surgeon is hilarious, his mouth pulled back into a permanent creepy smile thanks to an excessive amount of plastic surgery. Surely taking one look at him should have put both Liberace and Thorson off from seeking plastic surgery. Other smaller appearances from the likes of Dan Aykroyd and Scott Bakula help give it a bigger budget feel without distracting from the central story.

Based on his previous credits I would be very disappointed if Soderbergh doesn’t get behind the camera again. Few directors could balance the various elements that the film requires – Liberace and his homosexuality is treated respectfully, and at no point does it shy away from the lifestyle that he followed. Soderbergh is one of those directors who has been incredibly prolific in the last 25 years, releasing an average of at least 1 film or documentary a year since 1989, yet the quality has never diminished. If this is his final film then he’s leaving on a high, but a return to the industry when he’s good and ready would be gleefully welcomed by many, myself included.

Favourite scene: Meeting Rob Lowe. Genius.

Quote: “I want to be everything to you, Scott. I want to be father, brother, lover, best friend.”

Silly Moment: Liberace’s plastic surgery means he sleeps with his eyes open.

Score: 4/5

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