An engrossing, if sometimes unsettling, look into the life of Liberace and his lover Scott Thorson. Behind the Candelabra is a bitter-sweet story about these two very complicated people who loved each other.
Behind the Candelabra is the story of Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his relationship with a young man named Scott Thorson (Matt Damon). Scott is a bisexual man who is introduced to Liberace through a mutual friend, and Scott and Liberace soon hit it off. Scott is very quickly swept off his feet by Liberace’s flamboyant lifestyle. The film is based on the autobiographical novel, and follows Thorson and Liberace’s tumultuous affair from start to finish.
Behind the Candelabra will undoubtedly appeal to fans of Liberace, as well as people who like their romance stories with more than a little drama.
The Bottom Line
I didn’t know much about Liberace or his history, but I have heard that he worked very hard to keep his homosexuality a secret from his (mostly female) fans. Considering how Michael Douglas portrays him in the film, it’s hard to imagine how Liberace managed to do it. I can’t compare Douglas’s performance to the man himself, but Douglas is completely convincing as a homosexual man. Liberace as a character is definitely a complicated man who was obsessed with image, as you’ll find out in regards to the way he treated his lovers.
Matt Damon’s performance is also good, but considering how extravagant and out there Liberace (and Douglas’ performance) is, it’s hard for him to not be overshadowed in many of his scenes. Damon is given more of a central role later into the film, but Douglas dominates the film earlier on. It’s fascinating to watch how the Scott changes through his relationship with Liberace, and it’s sadly not for the better.
Both actors are exceptionally convincing as gay lovers which is without a doubt evidence of their acting skills, especially since both actors are known for their portrayal of straight and often incredibly masculine men.
The story, despite being relatively simple, is quite gripping. As Scott’s relationship with Liberace develops, you see the influence Liberace and his money have on those who fall under his spell. You also see the inevitable pattern of tragedy that Liberace’s lovers fall into. It’s hard not to feel sorry for these men who are promised the world but are often thrown away like an old toy once Liberace became bored with them, and in some ways, had broken them.
Apart from Liberace and Scott’s relationship, there are other relationships in this film that are incredibly interesting. Even though we don’t get to know them personally, the way Liberace’s staff treated him, was perhaps, testament to things people would do for money. It would probably be pretty close to the truth to say that even though none of them seemed overly enamoured with the man, they kept his secret. His agent, obviously seeking to make a profit from Liberace’s image, goes to often ridiculous lengths to protect his piano player with the golden touch. Liberace’s plastic surgeon was more than happy to make Liberace’s every wish come true, as long as the dollars kept flowing in. His house staff knew the truth, but none of them ran off to the tabloids with tales of his sexual exploits.
A special note has to also be made in regards to how the story was told. Considering the subject matter, this story could have very easily come off across as camp and cheesy. Instead the film comes across as an incredibly honest retelling of a man who hid behind a mask that he created.
Behind the Candelabra is a intimate look at the life of a passionate man who hid his true self from the world. Occasionally joyous, but mostly tragic, Liberace’s story is one of a man who truly believed “too much of a good thing, is wonderful”.