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Behind the Candelabra


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For someone in my age group it’s difficult to watch a biopic like Behind the Candelabra and truly appreciate it for all its merits. My experience with Liberace and his shows consisted of slight knowledge of his flare for the dramatic and a minimal acquaintance with the controversy surrounding his sexuality and death. Further complicating the issue is the fact that the movie was made off the autobiographical novel written by his lover, Scott Thorson. Regardless of that, though, Behind the Candelabra is worth it simply to see Matt Damon and Michael Douglas at their best.

Grade:

B

Steven Soderbergh helms this festival of light and jewelry for HBO and it’s a whirlwind of theatrics and melodrama. As my “research” prior to viewing, I watched a few Youtube clips of Liberace’s performances and acclimated myself to how he presented himself to his audience. The genuine appreciation gleaming from his face at the idea of people paying to see his show was obvious and heartwarming. Maybe that glow was aided by his outlandish costumes, but I like to think the emotion was natural.

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Douglas adopts this wholesome persona for when he is on stage in the film, but the real action is off the stage at Liberace’s home. The crippling desire for undivided attention and relentless love coupled with the chronic need to control those close to him makes Liberace a simultaneously sympathetic and detestable man. The way in which he yearns for Thorson’s love but prevents his lover from any sort of freedom or independence confuses your interpretation of his character.

Meanwhile, Damon is similarly adept in keeping Thorson’s personality on the fence as well. Initially hesitant and naïve, Thorson quickly grows into an entitled prima donna. You feel for his captivity, but scoff at his selfish and ungrateful behavior. The pair exemplify what it means to be two-faced and passive aggressive.

Behind the Candelabra

Since my familiarity with the situation is minimal, I take the film’s presentation of the pair with a grain of salt, not knowing how Thorson’s bias painted a unique portrait of the relationship. I watched out of curiosity for the story and to see Damon and Douglas immerse themselves in such unique roles. Kudos to Soderbergh for keeping the story intriguing, even if it did seem to drag, but as I said, a view for Damon and Douglas (and Rob Lowe as a leather-faced plastic surgeon) is certainly recommended.

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