Behind the Candelabra
4.5/5 MUST must see SEE
dir Steven Soderbergh
scr Richard LaGravenese
prd Jerry Weintraub
with Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Debbie Reynolds, Cheyenne Jackson, Bruce Ramsay, Nicky Katt, Boyd Holbrook, Paul Reiser, Eddie Jemison
release US 26.May.13, UK 7.Jun.13
13/US HBO 1h58
Behind the Candelabra
Soul mates: Damon and Douglas

lowe aykroyd reynolds

33rd Shadows Awards

R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Behind the Candelabra Much more than a biopic about Liberace, this expertly assembled film recounts a true love story in a way we rarely see on-screen: with honest humour, real feeling and startling insight. It also boasts quite possibly the most camp production design ever.

In 1977, 17-year-old Scott Thorson (Damon) was introduced to iconic 57-year-old pianist Liberace (Douglas), and the spark was instant. Without a family of his own, Scott finally felt like someone wanted him, so he took a job as Liberace's companion, both in his bed and running his house. Liberace fought ageing with the help of plastic surgeon Jack (Lowe), who also made Scott look more like a young Liberace. But this resulted in Scott's addiction to an escalating variety of drugs. And after five years, the romance was strained to the breaking point.

Despite the florid surfaces, Soderbergh keeps the story grounded, letting us find the comedy rather than throwing it at us. And the more intense dramatic moments are just as organic. This straight approach adds a strong kick, making the film a lot of fun to watch even as the serious aspects of the relationship have proper weight. Meanwhile, LaGravenese's script cleverly packs scenes with a mountain of information about Liberace and Thorson, delivered in off-handed dialog and observant interaction.

The actors adeptly echo this delicate balance. Douglas is simply jaw-dropping as the flamboyant showman who vehemently denied his sexuality despite all evidence to the contrary. More than an impersonation, Douglas crawls into his skin to show the insecure man behind the flashy personality. And in an unusually raw role, Damon is even more revelatory as the doe-eyed innocent whose life takes an unexpected turn. Together they create complex chemistry that feels startlingly intimate and truthful.

Memorable standouts in the supporting cast include Lowe's facially frozen doctor, Aykroyd's prickly manager, Ramsay's queeny houseboy and the unrecognisable Reynolds as Liberace's tetchy mum. And the film boasts more "palatial kitsch" than we could hope for with a blinding array of rhinestone-encrusted period details. Soderbergh shoots and edits so expertly that he can seamlessly blend hilarious sight gags with gritty realism. But the ultimate irony is that this film will do more to secure Liberace's cultural legacy than the myth he tried to build about himself.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, grisliness, drugs 21.May.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall