Behind the Candelabra
For a film about perhaps the fluffiest of all light entertainers, the most gimmicky of showmen, the performer whose motto might as well have been “style over substance”, Behind the Candelabra is undoubtedly one of the more thoughtful and moving films to come out this year.
Steven Soderbergh’s film tells the story of Liberace’s relationship with Scott Thorson, through the seventies and eighties and gives a fascinating insight into one of Hollywood’s most mythologised stars in the process.
The film is closely based on the autobiographical novel Thorson published a year after Liberace’s death, so the events tend to be told from his point of view. However, it’s a remarkably impartial account, putting neither character on a pedestal.
We follow Thorson as he goes from being a young man from Wisconsin without the slightest hint of glamour, to Liberace’s personal valet and lover, living with him in his majestically camp palace in Palm Springs.
The film’s excellent set and costume design offer a fun glimpse of the kind of stylistic eccentricity and excess Liberace became known for. It reminds the audience of a kind of camp glamour that now feels very much part of a bygone era not only in terms of fashion, but also gay politics. However, the film essentially operates on a human level.
It is a candid exploration of loneliness, friendship and love, driven by first class performances from Matt Damon – who shows his versatility in his role as Thorson – and Michael Douglas as Liberace, perhaps the most convincing role of his career.
The two actors portray a real life love affair as complicated as any. It moves from sweet and funny to sad and disturbing fairly quickly, as Liberace’s insatiable desire for new and ever younger lovers clashes with Thorson’s spiralling drug habit.
Even though the story threatens to descend into the usual clichéd world of rock ‘n’ roll excess and destruction, Behind the Candelabra is thankfully too intelligent to dwindle there.
While not eligible for Academy Awards, this touching film must surely still be destined for sweeping recognition as one of the best American films of the year.
Behind the Candelabra is released nationwide on 7th June 2013.
Watch the trailer for Behind the Candelabra here: