Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Just as surprised as Austin Powers when I watched this.

When he was 17 years old, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) was introduced to Liberace (Michael Douglas) after one of his many, many terrific performances. At first, it seemed like Liberace took a liking to Thorson that not only started a relationship between the two, but also went so far as to almost have Scott adopted by Liberace himself. Sounds strange, yes, but it gets worse once Thorson becomes more and more jealous of Liberace, his success, and the idea that he too, may be getting older and expect the boot anytime soon.

I don’t usually do this, but considering this is “apparently” Steven Soderbergh’s last movie, and there has been a butt-load of praise for this one, I thought to myself, “Why not just a review a TV movie for once!” I mean, hey, it’s HBO, and they always put out quality films so why not give it a look-see and see if I want to make a review of it or not. Well, as you can obviously see, I decided to go along with it and I’m pretty glad to, even if it is a bit weird something like this would get the television treatment.

Supposedly, Soderbergh did all that he could to get this movie out there and in the open for Hollywood producers to take, but apparently it was “too gay” for the mass-audiences, so, why not just throw it onto television’s world-wide, where anybody could watch this as long as there’s no parental-controls. It’s sort of strange to think that Hollywood would think of this movie as being “too gay”, but yet, wouldn’t allow the audience to make up their own mind as to whether or not they should see it. I think it would have done quite well in American theaters, but if there’s a movie that I can watch at my house, at my expense, and for free, then I can’t complain too much. Especially when it’s this good.

Seeing Soderbergh go out like this (even though I highly doubt this will be his last movie), is a bit sad to see, but the guy seems happy and pleased with his body of work, and even happier with the fact that he was able to make a story about Liberace. Well, it’s actually more about Thorson than it is about Liberace, but that doesn’t matter since both figures make this story work and it’s all because of the attention to detail and who these people really are that make it work. Anybody that has ever seen Liberace anywhere, always knew that this guy was a fun, free-wheeling, and wild dude that loved to live fabulous, and always give people the show that they want. He was just that type of dude that you saw in the public, but you had to know that there was something more to him than just fun and games. There must have been a sad, somewhat-depressed person underneath it all, and that’s where Soderbergh and his cast and crew gets at.

"You remind me of a younger me. Except with hair."
“You remind me of a younger me. Except with actual hair.”

We see Liberace for all of the glitz, the glamour, and the expenses that he’s been come to be known as for ages to come, but we also get a look we never thought we’d see, and that’s the intimate, vulnerable dude that’s too afraid of being old and alone for the rest of his life. Obviously every biopic touts the same thing about their subjects, but somehow with Soderbergh’s feel and approach; it never once feels phony or played-up for the sake of dramatics. It’s there to service the story and to service our emotions, and actually make us feel more for this “old queen.”

Obviously, this movie has the definitive, “Soderberghian look” to it that makes the movie work, but you can really tell that the man cares for this story, how it gets out to the masses, and how each and every one of it’s real-life figure-heads are portrayed. Rather than making Liberace some old hack that likes to bang whatever tush he can get, we get a real glimpse at somebody who’s happy to be with the person he loves, even if that person’s 40 years younger than him. But Liberace isn’t the only one who gets all of the attention, Thorson is somebody we connect with as well, if maybe a bit more conventionally as we too can feel for the dude’s pain and paranoia when he begins to feel that maybe Liberace hasn’t been so dedicated to him as he might have thought.

However, this is the aspect of the story that I felt drove it into obvious-territory where Thorson gets tied-in with a drug-habit, Liberace gets older and wants more surgeries, and the two’s relationship begins to fall-apart. This is obviously what happened in real-life, with barely any speculation whatsoever, so I can’t really get on the movie’s case for presenting me with something that’s going by-the-book, but coming from Soderbergh; I expected a bit more than what I got. Then again, the guy shoots this story in a straight-forward manner and style, that isn’t all about the flashes of glam like it’s subject was; it’s about getting down to the simple beats and skips in our heart that not only make us love one another, but also make us human. I was surprised that Soderbergh was able to channel this type of theme/message in a story about two gay dudes falling in-and-out-of-love, but that’s what the dude was always good at: giving us surprises.

Another surprise, which really shouldn’t be, but actually still was, were the performances from Matt Damon and Michael Douglas who hand in some of their best work in awhile. And no, I’m not just saying because they kiss and hump each other a lot. Although, I will say that that does take a whole slew more of dedication and passion for your work than kissing and humping females. I mean, I wouldn’t know or anything. Okay, never mind. Back with the performances!

Yup, he's totally 23.
Totally 23 years young.

Matt Damon is very good as Scott Thorson because you see a side to Damon’s acting-prowess that we haven’t seen in quite some time: his vulnerability. This is a young kid who steps right into Liberace’s life right away, gets sucked into all of the fame, power, and energy of the life, but yet; is also still a kid that wants to do thing that most kids do when they’re 17 years old. They want to cause havoc, get drunk, get high, have sex, be reckless, and just always keep moving at a quick pace that never dies down. That’s not what Liberace was all about at his age (around 60), and it seems that’s where Thorson and him first hit their rough-patches. Even though the make-up job kind of screws the pooch on making Damon look as young as he’s supposed to be, the man still keeps this character interesting and always sympathetic.

Same can be said for Michael Douglas as Liberace, who actually takes this role and makes it his own, perfectly incorporating all of Lee’s mannerisms, trademarks, and ways he had going on about him. I thought it was going to be a bit of a struggle trying to buy someone as recognizable as Douglas, playing someone as iconic and famous as Liberace, but after awhile; the magic and the charm of the guy’s acting came over full-throttle, and I eventually bought into it all. Together, the two seem like a really understandable couple that may all be about being young and spending time together while you still can, but there’s something there between these two that’s worth staying around for and believing in, regardless as to whether or not they’re gay.

And for the record: yes, they are both as straight as two circles.

Consensus: Liberace and Thorson’s story was not one that was meant for the big, nor the small-screen, but Soderbergh, Damon, Douglas, and everybody else give Behind the Candelabra their biggest-effort in awhile, and the results come out more positive and negative. If this is Soderbergh’s last to-date, the man has gone out on a high-note that all should at least give a gander at, regardless as to whether or not you can stomach two dudes getting it on.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Come and see our new movie. It's faaaabuullouusssss!"
“Come and see our new movie. It’s faaaabuullouusssss!”


  1. OK!!!!! I’ve seen this a few times already. It’s right now my favorite film of the year so far. I love watching Michael Douglas and Matt Damon together. They make a good couple. Plus, Rob Lowe was freaky-looking. I would never get plastic surgery from that dude.

    • They were very, very good together and kept this flick grounded. I didn’t think it was as great, but I still appreciated, once again, what Soderbergh did with this material.

  2. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon are both great in this, I was very impressed with result. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it as much as I did.

    • This movie really entertained the hell out of me, which was surprise due to the fact that it seemed like such an odd story for Soderbergh to take and capture.

  3. This is my #1 film of the year at the moment (Iron Man 3 was at the top before), spectacular acting from Damon and Douglas. Technically, the film is also wonderfully produced and I think Soderbergh put a lot more effort into this film than his last 3-5 films.

    • I could see that from another stance. he always seems to be playing around with genres and their conventions so it’s always fun and need to see what he’s got next.

  4. We just watched this earlier this week and struggled with figuring out what we wanted to say about it. I think you covered everything here. I know I agree.

  5. Good review Dan! I’ve just seen it ( it is in cinemas here) and I loved it too. Douglas and Damon are great together. One of the highlights of the first half of this year.

  6. Good review, and glad to read both Damon and Douglas gave one of their better performances.

    Interestingly enough, this was only released on TV in the States. It has been released in Theatres everywhere else.

  7. Very good movie with stunning performances. Like you say the movie gets down to the human level of emotions and it works so well because of it.

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