Film Festival Review: Behind the Candelabra
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh knows how to exit a room. The fêted director is leaving the filmmaking party — he’s going into Twitter novel-writing, or something — but we really wish he’d stay, especially when his final party trick is something as delicious, glitzy, bitchy and real as Behind the Candelabra, in which Gordon Gekko and Jason Bourne go at it hammer and tongs.
This flawlessly entertaining peek into the closeted life of Liberace draws from the autobiography of one of the piano queen’s young companions, Scott Thorson. “Lee”, as his closest knew him, gloms onto Scott with lascivious glee, showering him with jewels, home cooking and plastic surgery (everything a girl wants!).
Michael Douglas hits a career high as Liberace: emotionally, he’s simpering, campy and coolly calculating; physically, he lets it all hang out. We never see him rehearse — sex and shopping take precedence — but we see the splashy on-stage numbers and the huffy backstage lows; the artist’s need for approval is ever-present.
As his “baby boy” companion, Matt Damon is a marvel, ballooning in weight and years, blossoming from lost foster child into full-blown cokehead. The real Scott was just 17 when he met Lee; Damon fudges it somewhere in his early 20s.
Liberace has a cadre of enablers who fuss and fawn over him, portrayed by a strong supporting cast: Dan Aykroyd is his straight-edged manager, Rob Lowe is pure comedy as his cosmetic surgeon. At one point, Scott gets surgery too — he is remade in Liberace’s image. It’s comical, but the sinister undercurrent, barely suggested, is that Lee can’t be accused of being in a relationship with a minor if Scott looks more like his son. It was one of Liberace’s many schemes to avoid being outed, which were ultimately undone by his Aids-related death (oh, and the tell-all bio).
Douglas and Damon pull off the ebbs and flows of the screwy yet genuine relationship, nailing — so to speak — the touching private moments (touching being the operative word; this is one of the most affectionate portrayals of a male partnership I’ve seen in the mainstream).
Drink it all in on the big screen; in the United States, Behind the Candelabra showed on HBO because it was “too gay” for Hollywood. Too awesome, more like. As Liberace was fond of saying, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” Mr Soderbergh, you’ve spoiled us. Don’t stay away too long.