Director Steven Soderbergh has said Behind the Candelabra, based on the memoirs of Liberace’s former lover Scott Thorson, would be his last film. If so, he’s going out on a great note. (I find it hard to believe that Soderbergh will never direct again but, hey, you never know.)
Michael Douglas plays the legendary pianist and will certainly be in contention for an Emmy after this, one of his best performances. He captures that funny, overly happy, flamboyant personality that many of us who lived through the 1970s remember so well. He gives one of show business’ greatest caricatures a soul.
As Thorson, one of Liberace’s last boyfriends, Matt Damon is as good, if not better, than Douglas. The two—with Soderbergh’s help, of course—make Liberace and Thorson one of the more compelling screen couples this year.
I was surprised at how funny the film is. Rob Lowe is terrific as Dr. Jack Startz, the facial architect who masterminded Liberace and Thorson’s plastic surgeries. One of the film’s more nightmarish elements is how freaky Liberace, Startz and Thorson look after these procedures. Thorson, who was a very young man when he began his relationship with Liberace, got many unnecessary surgeries, allegedly to achieve a look Liberace found most attractive. For example, he got a dimple put in his chin for the hell of it.
Soderbergh wanted this to be a theatrical release, but has publicly stated that the major studios turned down the film because it’s “too gay.” What a shame. It contains some work that would’ve qualified for Oscar contention. Not only are the performances stellar; the costumes are worthy of accolades as well. Those fur coats and capes are to die for.
Kudos to HBO for backing the project when others wouldn’t. This is a great story for cinema, and it’s good that it found a venue.