Relentlessly bold, appeasingly fresh, and genuinely, yet subtly funny. Steven Soderbergh’s portrayal of the last 10 years in the illustrious Liberace’s life and his secret affairs is unyielding, decidedly heartfelt, and intolerably melancholic. Cemented with a truly captivating story and a pair of strong, unflinching performances from its two accomplished leads. “Behind the Candelabra” is undoubtedly the complete package and is sure to win the hearts of cinephiles and critics alike. Regrettably, the film is not an obvious smash-hit and is more of an acquired taste. Ultimately resulting in some inevitable polarization due to a lack of universal persuasion and a character that predictably alienates those not familiar with the king of showmanship and glitter. All possible criticisms aside, “Behind the Candelabra” is a magnificent triumph and is easily one of the best films of 2013 so far.
In 1977, Scott Thorson (Damon) works as an animal trainer for films. When Scott meets Bob at a bar, he is urged to leave his adopted home with the promise of better paying work. Bob soon introduces Scott to Liberace (Douglas) who takes an immediate liking to him. Liberace invites the two back to his mansion where Scott notices that one of Liberace’s dogs is suffering from temporary blindness. Scott, a previous veterinary assistant claims he can help with the dogs illness. After treating Liberace’s dog, Scott becomes his permanent assistant and moves into his home and soon becomes his lover.
Even though, rather, despite some may find the delicate subject matter “Behind the Candelabra” deals with to be too uncomfortable and foreign. Soderbergh and company reject any notion of a standard and present this fabulous, yet heartbreaking story in the necessary over-the-top, in-your-face style. They handle this Liberace biopic with an honesty that is so purposefully campy and intimate, if you didn’t feel out of place, you wouldn’t be human. Essentially, the viewer is invited to take part in the dissection of a man’s soul, his emotions and motivations. Granted, some have a difficult time understanding and witnessing homosexuality. Nevertheless, by the time “Behind the Candelabra” rolls around to its depressing conclusion. One can’t help but feel unaware of the fact that they’ve been watching a gay relationship. The film is so vivid, brash, and enjoyable, you lose track of our societies misconceptions of norm, but I digress.
“Behind the Candelabra” isn’t an advocate for equality and I mean this with the best intentions. This film is about the legend that is Liberace and his life, not a campaign for equal rights regardless of sexual orientation. This is simply because Soderbergh and company, and the film itself act oblivious to any degradation and lesser merit our society places on being a homosexual, as if we are already past this idiotic premise and ideal that some are not equal due to their personal attractions. This is just a film, a picture just as much about the people surrounding Liberace as it is about the man himself, not a gay rights movement. So set aside any differences in personal beliefs and unsettled feelings and just enjoy the masterful performances, spectacular direction, and riveting story that comprise “Behind the Candelabra.”
Without question, Soderbergh and company capture the spectacle, glamour, and talent that surrounded Liberace, almost like an aura. While the portrayal of Liberace is dead-on, the value and truth behind the films content is still somewhat up in the air. Although Liberace never stated that he was indeed gay, “Behind the Candelabra” does infant depict Liberace and his employee Scott Thorson in a sexually active relationship. Thorson wrote the book this film is based upon, so it is merely an account of events from his perspective, not an infallible retelling from Liberace’s mouth. Which leaves a lot for the audience to decide for themselves. Nonetheless, aside from the truth of its main theme, “Behind the Candelabra” leaves nothing veiled. The film is as honest, affectionate, and bold as they come. Soderbergh’s direction and originality is as firm and sharp as ever. His ability to exude this lighthearted hilarity in a beautiful contrast to the films dark content is outstanding. All in all, “Behind the Candelabra” is an intentionally campy romp that never falters.
However, while “Behind the Candelabra” strengths appear indicative that it can indeed remain afloat without the necessary cast to compliment its positives, I can assure you that without Michael Douglas, who portrays Liberace, and Matt Damon, who tackles the role of Scott Thorson, “Behind the Candelabra” would predictably sink. The film also stars Dan Aykroyd and Rob Lowe, who individually add a layer of humour that is body-achingly funny. Matt Damon does an outstanding job alongside Douglas and the two have undeniable chemistry that rivals some of the best twosomes in cinematic history. Michael Douglas easily gives the best performance in the film and one of the best of 2013 so far, arguably Oscar worthy. Everything about Liberace, Douglas captures, moulds, and presents in a truly phenomenal performance. Just incredible performances all around from the entire cast, especially Damon and Douglas.
Immaculately performed, keenly directed, and utterly entrancing. While “Behind the Candelabra” may not always be easy to watch, it is definitely worth the effort.
Behind the Candelabra: 8 out of 10.