Review: Behind The Candelabra

behind_the_candelabra

To say this is the most camp film I’ve ever seen would be an understatement, I’ve never seen so many candles, rhinestones or men in bubble baths! This is the biopic of flamboyant pianist, Liberace, as told by a former lover, Scott Thorson.

The film opens with a very short couple of scenes setting up Thorson’s character, he gets chatted up by a guy in a gay bar (Scott Bakula), he works as an animal handler in the movie business and lives with a foster family on a ranch. Bakula’s character takes Thorson to a Liberace show in Las Vegas and gets them back stage where the story really kicks in, with a few intensely lustful looks being exchanged.

Very soon, Thorson, is visiting Liberace’s opulent mansion and even sooner begins a strongly sexual relationship which culminates with Liberace hiring the young stud as his live-in right hand man. There were a group of younger guys – in a packed out cinema full of mainly middle-aged people – who squirmed a bit during the first kissing scene, not to mention the later sex scene and there were a few titters. But the film is so unflinching in its depiction of the central relationship that people seemed to stop processing it through a “this-is-weird-” prism. This is largely down to Steven Soderbergh’s direction and the script based on Thorson’s book of the same name. But mainly down to the brilliant acting by Michael Douglas (Liberace) and Matt Damon (Thorson). Quite how these two straight actors can be as naturalistically at ease with each other is astounding!

You can’t quite believe some of the situations that arise during this larger than life story; Liberace at one point gets a facelift to make himself look younger and then insists that Scott has one too…to make Thorson look like a young version of him! Something Scott finds abhorrent at first, but realises that if he doesn’t go through with it he’ll be shunned. Cue some pretty graphic scenes of facial reconstruction surgery being performed by a facially contorted Rob Lowe who looks like a cross between Michael Jackson and Steve Tyler! His cameo provides some of the funniest parts in the whole film. His face has been pulled so tight that he can’t blink, and if he did you feel like he could seriously hurt himself or someone else on set!

It’s not all glitz, glamour and inconceivable excess, after years together the pressure of being Liberace’s toy boy, man-servant, never being let out and getting hooked on pills and cocaine starts to show and their relationship dips slowly into paranoia and constant tension. This culminates in a huge break up and ensuing legal battle which Thorson loses and fades into anonymity. If you know anything about Liberace you’ll know how the film ends, but you may not expect the song and dance number at the end. But then, how else is this man’s biopic supposed to end?!

This is both a very funny, extremely tragic and often poignant story about an entertainer so trapped by his fame into not being able to expose his sexuality and his relationships. Michael Douglas’ portrayal of the pianist is second to none and the hair, make-up and costume departments have done their jobs brilliantly, but the star of the show is certainly Matt Damon (and his impressive tan lines!). These two together seem to genuinely be having fun bringing this relationship to life on the screen and if they aren’t up for an Oscar next year I’ll be very surprised!

What has surprised me is the difference in reaction to the film in the U.S.A. and here in the U.K. It has been released to a direct to TV film on America because of a perceived lack of interest outside of the gay community. This is utter rubbish. As I said at the start of this blog, the screening I was in last night was packed out with mainly older couples as well as groups of younger people of both sexes. Congratulations go out the U.K. cinema chains and the film-going public for supporting such a great film!

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