Verdict: 4 / 5
As the father of the bling-bling culture, any movie based on the life of Liberace has to be decorated in his very own style of ‘palatial kitsch’. As a performer and entertainer who was known just as much for his flair and showmanship as he was for this exceptional piano playing, he was the inspiration and trend setter for modern day performers such as Elton John, Boy George and Lady Gaga. So when he was asked the question “How do you play the piano with all those rings on your fingers?” his answer may very well have been no different to the answer given in this film: “Very well indeed.”
‘Too much of a good thing is wonderful’ – Liberace
During the 1950’s to 1970’s Liberace was rated as the highest earning entertainer in the world (as listed in the Guinness Book of Records). Known for his flamboyant and extravagant stage outfits and with nicknames such as Mr Showmanship and The Glitter Man he brought glitter, gold, crystal, fur and flare to the world of concert pianists.
Behind the Candelabra is a film about a decade of his life that was shared by a young man called Scott Thorson, who served as a personal assistant, companion and secret lover that is based on Thorson’s memoir Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace (1988).
The story starts as 17-year-old Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) is introduced to ‘Lee’ Liberace (Michael Douglas) through a personal friend (Scott Bakula) in 1977. After Thorson’s veterinary experience is offered to Liberace and his poodle, an unlikely friendship is kindled between the two and eventually Lee convinces Scott to move into his house to become his personal assistant and, later, lover.
The closer they became the more Lee begins to seemingly mould Scott into a younger version of himself, enlisting the help of his plastic surgeon (Rob Lowe). At this point the performer also talks of adopting Scott so that he can become his son. Scott soon becomes addicted to the pre-surgery medication and later, cocaine, and his relationship with Lee starts to unravel.
If you are comfortable admiring rhinestone studded G-strings and if you appreciate theatrics and freedom of expression to the nth degree, then you will love the luxury and overindulgence of this film. The costumes and production design are incredible and really does reflect Liberace’s androgynous style. You cannot but echo the critics as they celebrated these artists and their carefully constructed but perfectly placed portrayal of Liberace and his young lover. Douglas and Damon were outstanding in their performances. In fact, listening to a YouTube clip of Liberace himself it is hard to differentiate the original from the performance of Michael Douglas. Although you will have to look extremely hard (and perhaps rewind and pause) before you can recognize the famous face of Debbie Reynolds, who plays Liberace’s mother.
This film has one of the strongest redemptive moments to be seen in recent years, even though it highlights some of the rougher edges of celebrity lifestyle and does not have a ‘happily ever after ending’. Character development is the main drive of this film so if you do not relax into this you may find it slow and feel that there is a lack of action and pace.