The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Behind the Candelabra | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Behind the Candelabra

The story of the elderly Liberace's relationship with his young lover, Scott Thorson.

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd, Debbie Reynolds, Scott Bakula

In 1977, young Scott Thorson (Damon) is introduced to Liberace (Douglas) at one of the pianist's extravagant live performances. Liberace and Thorson immediately fall for each other and the younger man moves into the lavish home of his aging idol. At first Thorson embraces his new lifestyle as Liberace showers him with gifts but, after a while, he becomes suffocated by Liberace's paranoia and possessiveness. When Liberace introduces Thorson to plastic surgeon Jack Startz (Lowe), the musician's controlling nature takes on a new level as he pays for his young lover's face to be reconstructed to resemble his own.
Wait, wasn't 'Side Effects' Soderbergh's final film? Not quite. 'Behind the Candelabra', having been shot for U.S cable network H.B.O, is technically a TV movie, though it's receiving a theatrical release in Europe. Soderbergh failed to find backing from Hollywood as his film was considered "too gay". It's a sign of how much American TV has changed that a film can be considered too challenging for cinema audiences yet perfectly okay for beaming into America's homes. Equally, it's a sign of how Hollywood so often likes to cut off its nose to spite its face. America's gay population is as large as its black population. Would studios balk at a script for being "too black"?
It's ironic that 'Behind the Candelabra' was made for the small screen as it's the most cinematic film Soderbergh has made in years. This may sound strange, considering he's been putting out an average of two movies a year, but I felt the director had grown lazy in recent years, churning out films with little artistry or inventiveness. Soderbergh was an early embracer of digital video, a format which allowed him to be as profligate as he was prolific. His last few movies have had a TV blandness as a result but 'Behind the Candelabra' feels like the work of a film-maker who just found his groove, rather than one packing up his viewfinder.
More than a standard biopic of Liberace, Soderbergh's swansong is really a story told from the point of view of Thorson. The central plot owes a lot to 'Sunset Boulevard', with the aging and paranoid actress replaced here by an aging and paranoid musician. Thankfully it's not a cruel film. It would have been all too easy to simply make Liberace a target of cheap jibes but Douglas, Soderbergh and screenwriter Richard LaGravanese give us a character that, for the most part, we laugh with, rather than at. Douglas' performance is breath-taking, a cross between Woody Allen and a gay version of Pacino's 'Scarface', and LaGravanese provides the character with quips sharp enough to cause Joan Rivers to sack her writing staff. Damon does a fine job as the not-quite-straight man to Douglas' comedian while Lowe steals the show in his few scenes, unrecognizable under layers of plastic surgery.
In the modern use of the word, you'll likely not see a more gay movie this year. In the traditional use, you won't see many so gay.

Eric Hillis