Wednesday, 24 July 2013
FILM REVIEW: BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
Fresh from the 2012 success of Magic Mike, director Steven Soderbergh takes another look at innocence and the American dream corrupted with Behind The Candelabra, based on Scott Thorson's autobiographical account of his six-year relationship with the one-time highest paid entertainer in the world, Las Vegas piano man, Liberace.
Thorson (Matt Damon), an animal handler on film sets with dreams of becoming a veteranarian, is blindsided when he's introduced through a mutual acquaintance to Liberace (Michael Douglas) in the late 1970s. It's not exactly love at first sight but Scott is enamored with both Liberace's talent and his life of luxury. Liberace seems to be smitten, too, and it's not too long before Scott, one-time foster kid, becomes son, lover and protege to the entertainer, moving into his Las Vegas home.
And yes, there will be sex. Soderbergh, Damon and Douglas don't skimp on the explicit nor the intimate nature of Thorson's and Liberace's relationship, so those who are grossed out at the mere thought of Damon and Douglas making out, you'd best brace yourself for plenty of it and in various states of undress.
Not that Behind The Candelabra is a tawdry, seedy expose of the life of a closeted celebrity (yes, the fans actually thought Liberace was straight!). But much like Soderbergh's Magic Mike, it's an age old tale of how a cocktail of fame, money and drugs, consumed whilst living life in the fast lane can up-end the highest of flyers: absolute hedonism corrupts absolutely. Not surprisingly, the party ends in the early 1980's with the onset of the AIDS virus.
Filmed for American pay-for-view network HBO but released theatrically in most other parts of the world, Behind The Candelabra doesn't suffer any for being a "TV movie". The production, set design, and art direction all top-notch, gaudily depicting a world where everything that glitters may well indeed be gold but not necessarily a fairy tale. Kudos, too, to the make-up team who not only subtly age the actors but "rejuvenate" them post-plastic surgery (Rob Lowe's funny-scary surgeon is the stuff of nightmares).
And the costumes? If you can't have fun with Liberace's wardrobe (and the late 1970s-early '80s generally) then you're not really trying. And Ellen Mirojnick seems to have had a ball, whether it's one of Liberace's on-stage numbers (a white fur coat with a train to rival any royal wedding gown) or one of Scott's barely-there swimming costumes.
But it's the acting which makes Behind The Candelabra a winner. Damon, despite being almost two decades too old for the role, perfectly captures Thorson's wide-eyed innocence and his transformation from adoring young lover to embittered ex.
And Douglas manages to make Liberace both the camp, flamboyant showman that we know he was whilst also grounding him in a reality as an ageing man, as vain and vulnerable as anyone and whose demons could not be bought off by fame or riches but merely held at bay for so long. (The ensemble also features solid turns by the likes of Scott Bakula, Dan Ackroyd, and Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother.)
Depending on your point of view, Behind The Candelabra is either Soderbergh's first foray as a director into television or his cinematic swan song. Either way, it's an entertaining missive heralding the end of an era and the beginning of something new and exciting.