Review: Behind the Candelabra

Poster for 2013 drama film Behind the Candelabra

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 7th June 2013
Runtime: 118 minutes
Director: Steven Soderbergh 
Writer: Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe 
Synopsis: A young gay man finds himself thrust into a lifestyle of glitz and glamour when he begins a complex relationship with world famous entertainer Liberace.



Eventually, Hollywood will wake up to the fact that homosexuality isn’t immediate box office suicide. Surely the $180m that Brokeback Mountain raked in a few years ago should have been a wake-up call? Fortunately, television network HBO is a little bit more progressive than Tinseltown and gave the greenlight to the wonderfully camp Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra.

Liberace (Michael Douglas) meets Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) after a show one night. Bonding over pets, they begin a complex sexual and quasi-parental relationship, to the displeasure of Liberace’s agent Seymour (Dan Aykroyd). Soon, friction is caused between the couple when the entertainer enlists a plastic surgeon (Rob Lowe) to change his lover’s face.

Any review of Behind the Candelabra must start with an acknowledgement of the marvellous work on show from Michael Douglas. When his obituary is written, Liberace is now almost certain to be held amongst his career-defining performances. He completely inhabits the legendary entertainer and juggles the light and shade very well – even when his character must turn from jovial entertainer to grim control freak.

Equally strong is Matt Damon as Scott. His role is less showy, but provides the audience with a solid emotional anchor. For huge stretches of Behind the Candelabra, it feels as if Scott is being tugged this way and that by Liberace’s changeable personality and Damon’s performance is so innocent and naive that everyone goes along with him.

As for the rest of the film, it’s very good indeed. The scenes of Liberace on stage are nothing short of spectacular and the domestic sequences fizz with clever dialogue. It could perhaps have been a little funnier though and there might be one or two hot tub scenes too many. But this was always going to be a film about the performances.

Steven Soderbergh, who claims that Behind the Candelabra will be his final film, is clearly having the time of his life behind the camera. Every shot is an Aladdin’s cave of glitter, sparkles and finery as the story delves inside the lavish existence of one of the most famous cabaret acts of all time. If this proves to be the director’s final year making movies, then this and the wonderful Side Effects provide a very fitting send-off for his talent.

It isn’t perfect and feels a little bit overlong, but Behind the Candelabra is one of the most joyous films of 2013 thus far. Unfortunately, the fact it never got a US cinema release means Michael Douglas won’t be up for an Oscar next year. He should probably get one anyway.



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