Flouncy, flamboyant Liberace was the ultimate showman on stage – a talented pianist and supreme entertainer. All teeth and glitter and furs and frills, everyone suspected he was gay, but Liberace did all he could to keep his homosexuality secret from the public. This biopic, based on the book by Scott Thorson, goes behind the facade to give us a glimpse of the real Liberace.
Scott Thorson (Damon), a young animal trainer living with his foster parents, is introduced to Liberace (Douglas) by a mutual friend and the two have an instant connection. Thorson becomes Liberace's secretary, assistant, chauffeur, toy boy ... and lover, eventually moving in to his Las Vegas mansion. Scott, a simple country boy at heart, takes to the glamourous lifestyle and soon gets a little pudgy. Enter Doctor Jack Startz (Lowe), plastic surgeon to the stars, who introduces Scott to the "California Diet" (diet pills, coke and booze) and does a bit of work on his face to make Scott look more like Liberace. But Scott's drug use, and Liberace's straying, soon see the relationship fall apart.
A made-for-TV HBO film, Behind The Candelabra is one of director Soderbergh's best works – and sadly, he's announced it will be his last. Set during the final decade of Liberace's life – the film opens in 1977 and concludes with Liberace's death from AIDS in 87 – it uses many of the biopic tropes, while adding plenty of drama, humour and frisson. But more so than the story, this is an actors' film, and the performances all round are outstanding – particularly from Douglas and Damon. Both put in amazing and brave turns. Douglas has never been better and is spot on as the ageing entertainer who just wants to be loved. Also notable is Lowe, whose makeup for the film gives him quite a shocking look.
How much truth is in the film is questionable, based as it is on Scott Thorson's memoir – the story is clearly seen from his point of view. But it's a fascinating look behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood; a human story full of warmth, humour and pathos, with outstanding performances from all involved.
EXTRAS Sadly, there's just the very short and rather unrevealing featurette, Making Behind The Candelabra (14:01).