May 29, 2013 – With the many rave reviews “Behind the Candelabra” received before and after its first showing on HBO Sunday night, you would think Steven Soderbergh’s story of Liberace and his relationship with Scott Thorson was “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. Critics raved about the “stellar” performances of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the lead roles, with some stating that gay love stories are among the most romantic.
The film also received tremendous applause at the Cannes Film Festival, and all of the praise leads me to believe I saw a completely different film than they did. Douglas’ Liberace was over the top – maybe because the man himself was over the top – and seemed a bit creepy. I also missed the touching scenes critics wrote about or failed to see any romance at all. This isn’t a love story, it’s the story of an aging star who prefers much younger companions, and trades them in for newer models every few years. Does that pass for romance?
Matt Damon’s portrayal of Scott Thorson, who penned the memoir, which is the basis of the film, seemed fine enough, although in reality, I know little about Liberace or Thorson, so I only have the film to go on. If it is accurate, Liberace came across egotistical and almost pedophile-like, and Thorson, rather stupid. After all, Thorson replaces one of those younger companions when he comes onto the scene early in the film. Why would he act surprised when the same happens to him?
In no way do I mean this review as an anti-gay statement. If I felt that way, I wouldn’t have watched it. I wanted to like it. I support gay rights, love the gay people in my life, and want to see them happy and secure like anyone else. However, the story is equivalent to watching the Hugh Hefner story unfold on screen. He had many relationships with women over the years, and they seemed to get younger and younger as he got older. There may be nothing wrong with this lifestyle choice, but you would not describe it as romantic or touching, would you? Heterosexual or homosexual, it does not matter.
That said, there were parts of the film I enjoyed. Spotting actors who made cameos in this film was fun, for example. Debbie Reynolds did a fine job playing Liberace’s Mother, and in make-up that made her unrecognizable. Her voice gave her away. Dan Aykroyd plays the pianists’ manager to perfection, and Rob Lowe, in creepy makeup himself, plays a compelling Dr. Feelgood type character, who introduces Thorson to speed to keep him thin, and performs plastic surgery to make him look like Liberace at the master’s request. Who would want their lover to get plastic surgery to look like them? Only someone who is in love with himself, I suppose. Moreover, who would agree to it? Someone who is desperate to maintain his new lifestyle and keep the relationship going are the reasons that spring to mind.
As I stated, I know little about Liberace, except that he was a talented pianist who was quite flamboyant. That’s fine, but this flick made him appear as if he was a narcissistic head case. Maybe that’s true, or maybe it isn’t, but it is what Thorson portrayed. I’m willing to believe, however, that like everything else in life the truth lies in the middle.
If you are expecting a touching film about a talented musician and the love of his life, skip “Behind the Candelabra” and watch “Walk the Line” instead.