Movie review: Behind the Candelabra
Not many men can get away with having legions of female fans whilst flamboyantly playing the piano, while time and again categorically stating that they were most definitely not gay. But one man did. No not Elton John. OK, another man did – Liberace.
Between the fifties and seventies, Liberace was one of the biggest earners on the planet, with his ability to sit and perform at a piano wearing the most spectacular costumes almost a license to print money.
This film is based on the autobiography of his long-term lover Scott Thorson and examines the secret relationship they shared.
Working as a dog trainer for the film industry, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) had his mind set on training to be a veterinarian. But when his friend Bob (Scott Bakula) took him to Vegas to see a show in 1977 all that changed. Not only did Bob take him to see Liberace (Michael Douglas) perform, but he knew Lee (the name he let his friends call him) personally, and took him back stage to meet him. As soon as Lee's eyes fell upon the dashing young Scott, he knew instantly that he wanted him. And when Lee wanted something, he always got his way.
Despite having his protégé living with him, Lee insisted that he move in with them. Soon after, his protégé moved out. It was at this point that Scott became aware that he was simply the latest in a long line of 'companions' that were allowed to move in, and that the protégé was the most recent in a long line to be asked to move out.
As is the case with any new relationship, the early years were trouble free. But with the kind of stardom Lee had as Liberace came extraordinary pressure, which both of them felt. With these pressures came plastic surgery, diet pills and drugs which put all kinds of strains on their relationship, even more so when you consider that Liberace still continued with the public lie that he was most certainly not a homosexual.
With director Steven Soderbergh stating that he wants to quit directing for now, this film appears like an odd choice to bow out with. Not so much for its subject matter, after all, Soderbergh has a wide and varied collection of films under his directing belt, but for its fairly bland content.
It may well have some high profile A-listers involved, but it doesn't stop the film from feeling like a fairly average made-for-TV effort. In the states it was exactly that, airing as it did recently as a premiere on HBO. The thing is though, HBO don't really do average, which is why this film comes across as a disappointment.
There's no denying that Douglas and Damon give outstanding performances – Douglas nails the constant square-jawed grin of Liberace and Damon is mightily convincing as his initially naive lover – but although it's full to the brim with sparkle, it just doesn't have any real sparks. Considering Liberace was the highest paid entertainer on the planet at one point, there's also no real sense of excess.
There's also no compelling drama; the pair appeared to be genuinely in love with one another, and had the kind of spats you would expect, but nothing truly out of the ordinary.
What's left is a relatively normal and sedate love story, which strangely seems at odds with who Liberace was.
It would therefore be more suited to being screened on TV on a Saturday afternoon, rather than getting a theatrical release as it is receiving on our shores in the UK; and there's the irony as above all, it's the theatrical that is sadly missing from Soderbergh's film. In its place is a relatively soft and safe portrayal of one of the most dazzling performers ever known.
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