Behind The Candelabra Review

This is a film in which I knew nothing about it before I went in. I don’t mean in terms of the trailers, I mean in terms of what the film’s about. I have never really heard of Liberace before the film and I haven’t seen a Steven Soderbergh film before and I think that it’s fitting that the first Soderbergh film I watch is his potentially last film. With that said, all these elements of the film I wasn’t familiar with beforehand, I want to be more familiar with now. This was an incredible film.Starting off, the plot of the film is really interesting in that the focus of the film is not strictly on Liberace, it’s mainly on Scott Thorson and his relationship with Liberace over 6 years. A brilliant thing the film does is constantly frame Liberace through the eyes of Thorson, starting out with the myth-making over how brilliant Liberace is then slowly going more to how creepy Liberace is in the long term. I terms of the relationship, it feels less like actual love and more of a commitment through loneliness at first that turns into a kind of Stockholm Sydrome in that Thorson grows to love Liberace even though he has essentially been possessed by Liberace in every possible way. This is best shown when Thorson agrees to get cosmetic surgery to get him to look more like Liberace.

This sense of creepiness extends through the whole film in that Liberace is just incredible creepy. The way he flirts, his possessive nature, everything about Liberace just screams creepy and I just wanted Thorson to leave Liberace a lot earlier because there was the whole feel that their relationship just didn’t work, mainly due to how Liberace heavily screwed up Thorson. The scenes of the cosmetic surgery were also incredibly creepy and the detail into which the film shows the surgery made these scenes really hard to stomach for me, especially since I can’t really look at this sort of thing a lot.
This isn’t to say that the film is all serious, there are quite a lot of laugh out loud funny moments in the film. A lot of these moments come as a result of how awkward the relationship between Liberace and Thorson is at the start in terms of the awkward conversations, mainly the after-sex conversations. A lot of it though comes from the sheer flamboyance of the film and how over-the-top it is. The whole design of the film is so garish and, especially at the start, 70’s that, in the wrong hands, this could really pull people out of the experience. Thankfully though, in Soderbergh’s hands, all this stuff is made to look both funny and, to some extent, creepy. The best example of this is with Rob Lowe’s character who is a big scene-stealer in the film, both in the way he looks and in his hilarious dialogue and actions. This all shows the dark humour lurking underneath the film.
The best thing about the film though are the performances. Dan Akyroyd, Debbie Reynolds and Scott Bakula do brilliant work in small but pivotal roles and I’ve already talked about how much I loved Rob Lowe in the film. The best work done though is by Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. Damon is brilliant as Thorson, in that we see all the love for Liberace, be it real or Stockholm induced and the gradual breakdown of the character through stress and drugs is excellently portrayed. Lets not kid ourselves though, the best part of the film is easily Douglas’ portrayal of Liberace. He is incredibly funny and charming at the start, letting you know why people would go crazy all over him and by the end you see the true, cruel nature of the man. Douglas also does a great job in terms of balancing the Catholic aspect of the character with the gay aspect. These two elements really shouldn’t work together but in the hands of Douglas they are brilliant. It also helps that the way they made up Douglas really makes him look a lot like Liberace.
Overall, this was an excellent film and if it is meant to be Soderbergh’s last film, he couldn’t have made a better film. This is an incredibly powerful film showing just how creepy and sick Liberace was behind all the spangly jumpsuits and over-the-top fur coats, headed by top-notch performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.
My Rating: 5/5
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