Behind the Candelabra Reviews
Spoiler alert (of sorts), if you're uncomfortable with homosexuality on screen then this film might not be for you. I was actually surprised at the level of gritty realism this film portrays, I wasn't expecting it, but sure enough Soderbergh doesn't beat around the bush. In all honesty you can tell straight away its gonna be edgy, the question is can you handle seeing a skinny makeup laden Michael Douglas and a chubby tarted up Damon going at it? oh and there's also a highly gay Scott Bakula looking like one of his 'Quantum Leap' characters...remember that?.
I know nothing of Liberace, I grew up when he was still around and big and I do recall seeing him on TV here and there as my folks did like him for his classical skills. After a a little research I was stunned to discover how accurate and well portrayed everyone was in the film. Douglas should be in line for an award of some kind for this performance, its only when you see the real Liberace and then you see Douglas that you realise how damn good he is. Of course he is imitating the man but his mannerisms, body movements/gestures and general overall idiosyncrasies or quirks are brilliantly conveyed. I won't deny it is kinda creepy to watch Douglas at times, his wiry, leathery reptilian-like looks covered in tonnes of glittery makeup whilst clad in some cringeworthy flamboyant attire that a fat Elvis wouldn't say no too...its enough to make you gag at times. Must say he looks terrible with the bald cap on and his aging flabby torso, yikes!.
Quick point: I have no idea how they did the live piano sequences but trust me it looks damn good. I'm sure Douglas isn't playing the piano but blimey it looks like he is! very impressive scenes.
At the same time Damon is also fantastic in his role and looks just like the real Thorson. I'm unsure if his mannerisms are the same as I found no real footage of the man but he looks the ticket. Again its creepy to watch Damon at times, the lavish makeup, camp behaviour, full blown kissing and tight sparkly revealing underwear...its all very errrm...homosexual. Not that that's a bad thing of course, its just an extreme eye opener to see these two fellas going at it and acting this way.
I did enjoy seeing how Liberace carried on I must admit, to see his previous bit of fluff whom he gets rid of for Damon's character. The way the previous bit of fluff knew exactly how Liberace behaved because he'd seen it all before and knew his time was up, he was old hat. I liked the rather camp house boy Liberace had around the mansion and the fact he knew about Liberace's devious ways, Dan Aykroyd's rather blunt and gruff manager character and a round of applause to Rob Lowe as the seedy slimy plastic surgeon/drug dealer.
'Hey Scott, why don't you stay outta my f**kin business, now give me back to Lee'
The level of narcissism shown by Liberace to actually have Thorson's face altered to look more like his own was pretty eerie really. The fact that Thorson agreed and the way everybody carries on about it in the film is like a car crash, you just can't look away!. Its in these sequences where Lowe really shines plus it shows us the indulgence and vanity shown by all involved. Yet despite that you do feel Liberace cared very much for Thorson, there was true love there. Unfortunately being involved in show business meant real feelings could get smothered very easily with egocentric behaviour...as displayed by Thorson at the end.
I think lavish and flamboyant are the key words here, everything about the film (and this man's life) is just that. The sets are tremendously well created and really show how this man lived, more eye openers folks!. All the costumes and props seem to have been recreated to the tiniest detail, not only that but sequences from his real shows appear to have been recreated too. If you check some of Liberace's You-Tube clips out you'll see how pinpoint these sequences have been made, I really can't falter anyone involved with this production.
The story is very familiar really, it could be any relationship between any two people male and female, a simple tale of mistrust, lying, promiscuity and wealth. Towards the end the film does become quite sad in all honesty, you do come to like Liberace and his squeaky tones, you know Thorson did care about him deep down and at the very end the gifted performer is given a nice send off and rightly so. You can see what will happen a mile away its very easy to predict all the way through, but the ride to get there is undeniably a show stopper.
As a huge fan of Soderbergh's films, I ultimately don't know what drew him to this project, as it wasn't evident in what I saw by any means.
For the record, while Michael Douglas has never been that self-conscious an actor, he has also never really had the opportunity to fully submerse himself in a role until he portrayed Liberace in "Behind the Candelabra" for which he is mostly successful.(If you think that is wild, wait until you see Rob Lowe. And hey, is that Dan Aykroyd?) Here, we learn that Liberace had plastic surgery, was gay, and liked sex - a lot, while hiding in plain sight.(As he puts it, some people see what they want to see.) That's not to mention some biographical snippets, the most interesting of which is that Liberace was his real last name. But that's pretty much it. The movie's lack of development is again symptomatic of Steven Soderbergh working too quickly and wanting to get to the restaurant in time for the early bird special. For example, even though the movie is too long, it could have used more fantasia like the sequence towards the end of the film.
Wait, wasn't 'Side Effects' Soderbergh's final film? Not quite. 'Behind the Candelabra', having been shot for U.S cable network H.B.O, is technically a TV movie, though it's receiving a theatrical release in Europe. Soderbergh failed to find backing from Hollywood as his film was considered "too gay". It's a sign of how much American TV has changed that a film can be considered too challenging for cinema audiences yet perfectly okay for beaming into America's homes. Equally, it's a sign of how Hollywood so often likes to cut off its nose to spite its face. America's gay population is as large as its black population. Would studios balk at a script for being "too black"?
It's ironic that 'Behind the Candelabra' was made for the small screen as it's the most cinematic film Soderbergh has made in years. This may sound strange, considering he's been putting out an average of two movies a year, but I felt the director had grown lazy in recent years, churning out films with little artistry or inventiveness. Soderbergh was an early embracer of digital video, a format which allowed him to be as profligate as he was prolific. His last few movies have had a TV blandness as a result but 'Behind the Candelabra' feels like the work of a film-maker who just found his groove, rather than one packing up his viewfinder.
More than a standard biopic of Liberace, Soderbergh's swansong is really a story told from the point of view of Thorson. The central plot owes a lot to 'Sunset Boulevard', with the aging and paranoid actress replaced here by an aging and paranoid musician. Thankfully it's not a cruel film. It would have been all too easy to simply make Liberace a target of cheap jibes but Douglas, Soderbergh and screenwriter Richard LaGravanese give us a character that, for the most part, we laugh with, rather than at. Douglas' performance is breath-taking, a cross between Woody Allen and a gay version of Pacino's 'Scarface', and LaGravanese provides the character with quips sharp enough to cause Joan Rivers to sack her writing staff. Damon does a fine job as the not-quite-straight man to Douglas' comedian while Lowe steals the show in his few scenes, unrecognizable under layers of plastic surgery.
In the modern use of the word, you'll likely not see a more gay movie this year. In the traditional use, you won't see many so gay.
Started very nice and it was going to be some kind of a true-life love story between a humble young aspiring veterinarian and Liberace, an icon of kitsch and knowing excess, which, by the way, I never heard of before! Steven Soderbergh is presenting us with the story showing the difficulty in falling in love with someone famous because even if that person may love sincerely, the fame always gets in the way. I have to say that for me that wasn't a particularly revelatory idea, but the cast under the Soderbergh found a way to say it one more time... and I simply didn't care. The screenplay was based on the book by Scott Thorson and Alex Thorleifson with the same name as the movie, and traces about 10 years in the relationship between Thorson (Matt Damon) and Liberace (Michael Douglas). Maybe for the fans of this entertainer could be interesting to watch all this but to me the good directing and excellent acting could not replace a lack of interest for the story telling me about the life of a couple uninspiring characters who were acting as two spoiled bitches (in a real sense of the word).
Somehow the US society in general can accept that this eccentric love affair seem conventional (thanks to the two principal actors it was easy to accept that), but why would the rest of the world want to watch a "love" between a king of kitsch who could not really tell the difference between playing on stage and playing in real life and a drug abuser? I'll rather go for a hike... of course, you could make a different choice and enjoy it more than I did.