Release date: May 26, 2013 Director: Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra is one of the best films of the year, featuring three excellent performances from actors Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, and Rob Lowe.
Behind the Candelabra is based on the autobiography of the same name by Scott Thorson, who carried on a secret love affair with the eccentric and world renowned pianist, Liberace, when he was only seventeen years of age.
The film opens in 1977, as Scott sits alone in a gay bar. He is approached by a Hollywood producer named Bob Black, who lures him away from his foster parents and takes him to Las Vegas, where he introduces him to Liberace. Scott is in awe of Liberace’s talent, while Liberace is instantly attracted the young man’s naivete and good looks.
After learning of Scott’s troubled upbringing as well as his love for animals, Liberace asks him to move in and become an assistant and companion to him. Soon, the two men are sleeping together and spending every waking moment side by side. Liberace wants to give Scott everything that he never had. He wants to be his father, his mother, and his lover. So he adopts him. Shortly thereafter, he decides that he wants Scott to look more like him, and so he hires his plastic surgeon, Dr. Jack Startz – played by a superb and nearly unrecognizable Rob Lowe – to reconstruct Scott’s face and trim his waistline. It turns out that Dr. Jack’s weight loss plan consists of a highly addictive pill cocktail, something that he calls the “California diet”. Liberace gets a heavy duty face-lift as well, and while the two men are healing, Scott becomes dependent on the pills.
As Scott sinks further into addiction, the relationship begins to unravel. Liberace starts seeing other boys, and this leads to a heated confrontation with Scott, which ends with Scott being thrown out of the house. After a lawsuit, the two separate for good, until years later when Liberace becomes ill due to complications with AIDS.
When Scott arrives at Liberace’s death bed, it seems that there may be a chance for grace and forgiveness after all.
Behind the Candelabra is a return to form for Steven Soderbergh, after the shallow mainstream disappointment that was Magic Mike. He has crafted a rich and brutally honest character study, taking great pains to prevent the characters from becoming overtly sympathetic. Neither does he shy away from the details of Liberace’s closeted homosexual lifestyle. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon turn in two incredibly risky and brave performances here, leaving little to the imagination. Michael Douglas camps it up in many scenes, but provides real emotional depth. Another actor may have been tempted to turn Liberace into a mere caricature – and granted, this would have been easy – but Douglas wisely resists the temptation. Even though Matt Damon was 42 at the time of filming, with a little suspension of disbelief, he is totally believable as the 17 year old Scott. As for Rob Lowe, he’s never been better as Liberace’s alien-faced plastic surgeon. His character is another element that provides the disturbing, and at times hilarious, edge that pervades the film. Scott Bakula is superb as Bob Black, and seems to be having the time of his life. Dan Aykroyd and Debbie Reynolds don’t get much screen time, but they are wonderful as Liberace’s lawyer and his overbearing mother.
Beyond the Candelabra continues the tradition of quality programming from HBO Films, and is definitely a film that should not be missed. It arrives on Blu-ray and DVD in September.
Adam is a hardcore film fanatic. Some would call him a film snob. They’re probably right. He's been writing film reviews for as long as he can remember, and it is truly one of his passions. Aside from writing film reviews, he is also a screenwriter. He's written two shorts in the last year, one of which he plans to shoot in the spring of 2013. His favorite filmmakers are Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, Ingmar Bergman, Michael Haneke, and David Lynch – simply too many to list here.