The Review: Why on Earth this movie was forced to bypass a theatrical release and go to straight to TV is gobsmacking, to me. HBO financed this true story of Liberace long-term fling with young ranch hunk Scott Thorson and so, to paraphrase by the powers that be, was “far too gay for commercial release”. In the UK and Europe it has a theatrical run. I guess that tells you everything you need to know about the prejudicial stability at each end of the pond.
Recently, I was engaged in a discussion on with a fellow movie nutter about director Steven Soderbergh’s oeuvre; he decided that Soderbergh had made some very good films. I argued that he’s made maybe two “great” films; the first, obviously, being Sex Lies & Videotape and the second, the little seen Schizopolis from 1996. After dreck like Haywire, The Oceans Trilogy (despite the third being a lot of fun) and The fucking Limey, I thought my love affair with his work was over; and now comes a most surprising and genuine heartfelt one-two punch in Behind the Candelabra.
Michael Douglas plays Liberace and his performance is absolutely outstanding. He’s nailed the guy right down to the bone; flamboyant and persuasive, yet underneath really quite selfish and conniving. We meet Scott Thorson, the real central character of the movie, who scores backstage passes with his friend and eventually sparks fly between him and the much older ‘queen’. Thorson here is played, once again, absolutely brilliantly by Matt Damon.
Rob Lowe, a slightly underused Dan Aykroyd and Paul Reiser appear in bit parts – but, get this; Rob Lowe is flat-out crazily awesome as the cosmetic doctor who himself has had so much surgery, that my long-time wish of seeing Rob Lowe look like a reject from the Korean story of Cloud Atlas has finally come true. It’s nice seeing Douglas, Lowe and Aykroyd on the screen once again in the same film. The youngster who spent his life in the cinema in the eighties felt very nostalgic.
This is almost certainly a performance film; it’s about performance, by performers. The recreation of the late seventies/early eighties is spot on. The feel and tone of the movie is spot on. And yet, those who admonished Brokeback Mountain because of its male-on-male action won’t bother with this one. For fuck’s sake, grow up if this is you. Really. Be warned. Behind the Candelabra is gay. It’s gayer than a gay festival on a national gay day celebrating gayness by having a massive gay gang bang. With gays.
It’s nearly as gay as Commando. Nearly.
There’s obviously very, very little of it on screen, but certainly the passion and chemistry between Douglas and Damon is electric. I was sold.
To go into detail about the story would be to spoil it if, like me, you don’t know terribly much about what occurred between the two old queens; it involved a lot of plastic surgery and a lot of versatility talk, negotiation and, ultimately, a sense of bittersweet doom.
So, I shall leave you with this; Watch this for the performances, both behind and in front of the camera. Behind the Candelabra is Soderbergh proving once again that he’s more an actor’s director than anything else – and, girlfriend, he’s still “got it” – and what he has got here, at the very least, is three of this year’s best performances in what is without question one of the best, most passionate and colourful films of the year.
Reviewed By: Andrew MacKay
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