Christmas will be green with envy if it ever gets a peek at the camp pleasures of Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Behind the Candelabra’. Anyone the less leathery side of 50 might struggle to place Liberace, the flamboyant – as the tabloids surely tagged him – performer who wowed crowds in Las Vegas with his way-over-the-top but essentially wholesome cabaret show. Liberace was gay, but he didn’t let on, instead creating a dare-them-to-say-something persona of floor-length fur coats, lashings of rhinestones and very public love for his mother.
This massively pleasurable and understanding biopic covers the decade before Liberace’s death in 1987 at the age of 67 and tells of his complicated relationship with his secret lover, the much younger Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), on whose book it’s based. There are several scenes of Liberace, played with real care and compassion by Michael Douglas, performing live, and the film ends with a fantasy high-wire sequence, but essentially this is a domestic drama. If that sounds drab, think again. Liberace might tell his new boyfriend Scott that he likes to cook, but there’s not an oven in sight. ‘I call this “palatial kitsch”,’ coos Liberace – Lee to his friends – to Scott as he gives him a tour of his house.
‘Lee thinks he’s King Ludwig II,’ jokes a mutual friend to Scott, played by Damon as a slightly green but decent young man still finding his way with his sexuality. Scott might be naive, but he’s no fool and nor is he overly impressed by Liberace’s wealth. He’s wary of the age gap but he sees how much pleasure he gives Liberace, and they enter into a relationship in which he’s part lover, part employee, part son. Matters turn claustrophobic and a little creepy when they both have plastic surgery and never look – or move – the same again. Soderbergh gives us comic-macabre scenes of surgical knives cutting skin and hammers breaking noses – and Rob Lowe is hilarious as a plastic surgeon whose own face is as rigid as a cliff face.
Soderbergh is happy for us to gawp and laugh at Liberace’s pampered lifestyle, excessive furnishings and penchant for surgery. And why not? The man’s life was a gilded bubble. But Richard LaGravenese’s script, although conventional as it hops through the years, also strives to understand the progression of a relationship going sour and to find some meaning in it – in the context of both Liberace’s temperament and the sexual politics and social conventions of the time. The film doesn’t apologise for his less endearing habits – Liberace becomes a suffocating, domineering partner who confuses love with employment – but it’s also sympathetic to the unhappy contradiction of a man being a ‘matinee idol’, as he calls himself, and being gay. The real success of the tone that Soderbergh achieves here is that we’re able to laugh at the extremes of Liberace’s life without ignoring the sadder, less obvious elements of his personality. It’s both a romp and uncomfortably real.
Cast and crew
Average User Rating
3.2 / 5
- 5 star:0
- 4 star:6
- 3 star:1
- 2 star:2
- 1 star:1
This week I watched the film for the 16th time. (Missed a few showings late at night). Can't understand my fascination with this movie, as I am not gay, but find myself watching it whenever possible, and will buy the DVD of it in a few days. However accurate or inaccurate it may be, something about this flick mesmerizes me. You will either watch it more than once, or maybe turn it off after a few minutes. No in betweens. When I heard that Michael Douglas was portraying Liberace, I thought it would be the miscasting of the decade. But only a few minutes into the story, you will forget it is Douglas and believe the impersonation completely. Certainly not for kids, or homophobes, this movie is fascinating, tightly edited with no dead spots, and quite different than any biop has been done in the past. If you can accept the language and not be too disgusted by the simulated sex scenes, I think you will agree with me that this is worthy of some awards for acting and directing. 4 stars in my book. Bud Norris
Really good movie, very well acted by Douglas and well supported by Damon who bravely breaks from his more macho roles with ease. Well worth going to see. 8.5 / 10
A film that shows Liberace's male concubines as true expendable assets; it weaves pretty much throughout the films narrative and holds it together - though Soderbergh's take on the glamour and insecurities of the mans life is well executed. I had doubts that Michael Douglas could pull off the campness and limp-handed gestures within the characters repertoire, but the man pulls it off effortlessly. Damon is also solid as Thorson: from the child-like vulnerability of the man, to the anxieties fueled by drugs and jealousy. Its a solid film, glittering through the seering light of Soderbergh's camera, and to Marvin Hamlisch's dextrous ability in adapting the music. Enjoy your sabbatical, Mr. Soderbergh! Hopefully not for too long.
A long film in need of an edit as it goes nowhere fast. A full weekend cinema to see two well know straight actors play gay rôles and that's about the limit of the film. They do try hard to channel the characters and Douglas does a great impersonation, but beyond curiosity value, this is an underwhelming film. Wait for the dvd so you can fast forward during the many slow bits
An excellent film well worth a view. Douglas is excellent and is supported ably by Damon and an inspired cameo by Rob Lowe. One of the best films I have seen this year. A solid 4 star film.
An excellent film, well made and well acted. Douglas is superb; gets excellent support from Damon and an inspired cameo by Rob Lowe. Well worth a view. To think it didn't get a US cinema release because they didn't think a "gay" film would do well at the box office. Their loss. One of the best films I have seen this year. A solid four star film.
I must admit to having a few naps along the way as the film trudges along going nowhere particularly fast and after a while I lost interest in the story. A full cinema though to watch a couple of well know straight actors channeling gay personas. Gort's comment made me smile this morning on where we set the bar, but one for dvd so you can hit the pause to put the kettle on.
It is hard to see what this film was intending to do. Liberace, a shallow and essentially not very nice person is generally shown in a glitzy and superficial way with a particularly saccharine ending, whilst his young lover also does not have much depth and also ends with a long, soft focus camera lens. The biopic treatment made it hard to get close to the characters and there was precious little story. All in all fairly dull and very poor in comparison to other biographical films such as Senna or Beware of Mr Baker. A definite miss.
I really enjoyed this film. It is funny and tragic and took me into a strange, unknown world which in fact is just like all worlds. People love each other, hurt each other, and start all over again. People are hopeful, foolish, insecure and vulnerable and succumb to the easy lure of love like an addiction. Matt Damon's performance is terrific, as it was in Ripley, but Michael Douglas is a true revelation to me. I had no idea he could be that good! I grew up ridiculing Liberace but this fascinated me. Even the music was intriguing. The make up artist deserves a mention - although my one minor gripe is that the continuity of look pre- and post- all that surgery was a bit awry. Highly recommended.