Behind the Candelabra is not for the prudish or the homophobic. It tells the no holds barred story of Lee Liberace – an entertainer who astonishingly hid his homosexual status for over 50 years behind a smoke-screen of self promotion and law suits: an age before twitter and the internet, where the only expression for celebrity comment was through printed media.
Liberace uses his celebrity status to draw in and seduce attractive young men, setting them up in his fantastically chintzy mansion (surely a film set-designer’s wet dream). The film tells the true story of Scott Thorson – one such lost and adrift gay man – who is attracted to Liberace initially by his talent and glamour and later by his compassion and his genuine friendship.
The film is centred around the astonishing performances of Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson. Both are consummate actors. You will never hear the phrase “Jason Bourne has been compromised” in the same way again!
The genuine love and affection they feel in the early years really shines through, and both display brilliantly the disillusionment as the dream turns sour. The script tellingly illustrates how lines of dialogue (“You old queen”) can be laughed off in one situation and provoke fury in another.
But the quality of this film is not just tribute to the two leads. There is a stellar cast of supporting actors in this film, including an almost unrecognisable moustachioed Scott Bakula; Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s aging mother; Dan Ackroyd as Liberace’s humourless but viciously efficient manager and – stealing the show in every scene he is in – Rob Lowe as a plastic surgeon to the stars. Lowe’s character is a comic masterpiece.
The film is also memorable for two lasts – one permanent; the other (hopefully) temporary: the permanent one is that the film had its music coordinated by the late great Marvin Hamlisch, in his last film collaboration before he died at the untimely age of 68; the second is that this was the last film directed by Steven Soderburgh before his “retirement” – hopefully only a sabbatical.
Overall, this is an extremely entertaining film – both humourous, moving and tragic in equal measure.
Fad Rating: FFFF.