Behind The Candelabra

Behind The Candelabra

****

Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Despite the fact he worked hard to keep his private life secret, Liberace (or Lee to his intimates) would probably have adored Steven Soderbergh’s interpretation of his life, relationships and talents.

Although made for HBO in the States where it receives a television airing on May 26, it plays in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival with a red carpet screening tonight (May 21).


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Soderbergh, who has said he is now taking a break from directing, possibly definitively, has worked with Richard LaGravenese on an insightful and razor sharp script full of wry self-deprecating asides.

Michael Douglas nails Liberace not just in a flurry of feathers, bejeweled fingers, sequins and wigs but also poignantly reaches to the heart of the man whose music and stage presence incredibly set female hearts aflutter all over the globe.

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At first he invests him with a predatory air as he seduces Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson (18 at the time to his 58). Damon gives his soul and bed-mate a sweet vulnerability and the relationship develops into something deeper and enduring.

The story spans the final decade of Liberace’s life, from his initial meeting with young Scott in 1977 to his death from an AIDS-related illness.

LaGravenese shows both of them opening up about their family background and sexuality - Liberace never in doubt after he was initiated in his native Wisconsin by a strapping recruit from the Green Bay Packers, while Scott claims also to like women and grew up with a series of foster parents.

Although Scott dislikes being referred to as a kept boy he succumbs to the plethora of lavish gifts and glitzy lifestyle although a cocaine addiction, replacing the endless champagne, takes him to the dark side.

Both have to deal with personal tragedy – Lee with the death of his dominant mother (an excellent and almost unrecogniseable Debbie Reynolds) and Scott with the passing of one of his foster mothers who meant more to him than most.

Soderbergh takes a no holds barred approach to most of the scenes, especially when both go under plastic surgery at the hands of a scary Rob Lowe – in Liberace’s case, simply to preserve an eternal youthfulness while Scott is fashioned into a facial likeness of his lover to pinpoint a father-son element.

It is quite something to witness Douglas and Damon (obviously both stars in the mainstream) embrace the characters quite so authentically, pulling no coy punches in bed or anywhere else. Douglas even manages to capture the flamboyant piano playing to a tee. The musical side has been handled by the late Marvin Hamlisch in one of his last professional engagements.

Behind the Candelabra, away from the all the trappings, ultimately evolves into a moving love story of two misfits who find each other and achieve fleeting happiness before it all falls apart.

Let’s hope Soderbergh changes his mind about this being his last film.

Reviewed on: 21 May 2013
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The story of legendarily flamboyant entertainer Liberace and the man who loved him.
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Director: Steven Soderbergh

Writer: Richard LaGravenese, Alex Thorleifson, Scott Thorson

Starring: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Caroline Jaden Stussi, Debbie Reynolds, Max Napolitano, Boyd Holbrook, Paul Reiser, Nicky Katt, Cheyenne Jackson, Eddie Jemison, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Tom Papa

Year: 2013

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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