Behind The Candelabra (15)

The ViewBristol Review

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Review byMatthew Turner06/06/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 118 mins

By turns laugh-out-loud funny, jaw-droppingly camp and powerfully moving, this is a hugely entertaining drama/biopic with a superb script and a pair of terrific performances from Michael Douglas and Matt Damon.

What's it all about?
Directed by Steven Soderbergh and based on the book by Scott Thorson, Behind the Candelabra stars Matt Damon as 17 year old animal handler Scott Thorson, who begins a five year relationship with flamboyant 57 year old pianist Liberace (Michael Douglas) after they're introduced by a mutual friend (Scott Bakula) in 1976. Smitten with Scott, Liberace (or ‘Lee’, to his friends) gives him a job and moves him into his house, making him a complex mix of secret lover, personal assistant and surrogate son.

However, complications set in when Liberace introduces Scott to his plastic surgeon Dr Jack Startz (Rob Lowe) and insists he gets surgery so as to look more like a younger version of Liberace. This, in turn, leads to Scott developing an addiction to various painkillers and when Liberace begins to lose interest, the relationship comes under a heavy strain.

The Good
Michael Douglas gives the performance of his career as Liberace, simultaneously capturing the preening narcissism and the outrageously over-the-top showbiz personality, while also letting us see the aching loneliness and need for true love under the surface. Matt Damon is equally good as Thorson, generating surprisingly effective chemistry with Douglas and convincingly portraying gradual drug-induced deterioration in the second half of the film.

In addition, there are a number of stand-out supporting turns, including Rob Lowe (hilarious as the plastic surgery addicted doctor whose face is permanently rigid), Dan Aykroyd (as Liberace's long-suffering manager), Scott Bakula (sporting a wonderful Village People-esque moustache as Bob Black) and Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's slot-machine-obsessed mother.

The Great
Richard LaGravenese's script is excellent, skilfully blending dark humour (‘Will I be able to close my eyes again?’, ‘Not entirely, no...’) and high camp (there are catty looks and bitchy one-liners in abundance) while also portraying a convincing relationship that is genuinely moving, as we clearly see what both men get out of the relationship. It's also quietly heart-breaking in its observations of the contrast between Liberace's private and public life, particularly in the scene where he reads from his autobiography, declaring his life-long love for a woman who never even appears on screen.

Needless to say, the film is further heightened by some exceptional production design that fully embraces what Liberace refers to as ‘palatial kitsch’, not to mention some costuming work that features what must be the tiniest pants ever committed to celluloid. There's also a superb score from Soderbergh's frequent collaborator Marvin Hamlisch.

Worth seeing?
Behind the Candelabra is an outrageously entertaining drama with a superb script and terrific performances from Douglas and Damon. If Soderbergh really is retiring from filmmaking as he has apparently promised, then he will be sorely missed; here's hoping he'll be back behind the camera soon. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 30/10/2013 23:26

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