Film review: Behind The Candelabra

michael matt

Behind the Candelabra is director Steven Soderbergh’s latest and last cinematic effort. The man behind Ocean’s 11 and Erin Brockovich has tentatively announced his step back from features, but not before releasing one final star-studded Hollywood blockbuster.

Despite the blindingly obvious flamboyance of Liberace (Michael Douglas) this film centres around his closeted same-sex relationship with the much younger Scott Thornson (Matt Damon). The couple combat the struggles of fame, stigma, age divergence and fidelity – just to mention a few. It’s a glance beyond the glitz, a glimpse behind Liberace’s flaming candelabra.

Tragically, the film was denied financing by all major studios for its so-called controversy (homosexuality in the arts is still controversial? Seriously?) Instead it was made by good ol’ HBO, who love showing us content otherwise deemed too risqué. This is why we love you, HBO! Always pushing boundaries with great production value.

Having recently recovered from throat cancer, Michael Douglas is going to get no harsh criticism from me or anyone else. Luckily he deserves his accolades for his portrayal of Liberace. Douglas makes the flaming elderly pianist appear pitiable, loving, and mega-creepy – often all at once. There are times Douglas renders you unable to feel conclusively outraged or sympathetic over his character’s actions. Times when you should feel disturbed but can’t quite get there. His predatory seduction of young men is teeth-gritting gross, but the temperamental love shown for his partner Scott will warm your heart. He does an eerily good job in this role.

Matt Damon is his usual fumblingly handsome self as Scott Thorson, Liberace’s much younger lover. Though this biopic blurs the age of his character (which was roughly seventeen in real life) forty-two year old Damon plays Scott with naiveté, charm and a killer 70’s haircut. Also notable was the performance of Rob Lowe for his… physical comedy? He plays Liberace’s cosmetic surgeon, with a face so tightened it never changes expression and evokes an audience laugh at every appearance. Though this credit admittedly must go to the makeup department, Lowe makes a fantastic addition to the supporting cast.

Obviously, being a HBO production and a film about Liberace, Behind The Candelabra was always going to dazzle its audience. The production design is completely flawless – costume and set especially noteworthy. Every shot is jewel-encrusted; high-glitz, decadent and wonderfully over-the-top.

But what’s truly endearing about this movie, other than gaudiness, was its sincere representation of a relationship. It’s so rare for Hollywood films to depict mundane romantic conflicts, but somehow Soderbergh makes the romantic conflicts of a stupidly affluent, famous, homosexual couple seem perfectly relatable. A complete marvel.

Behind The Candelabra has realness despite the glamour, and gives a dark side to the dazzle.

bianca cornale


Review by Bianca Cornale.