Behind the Candelabra (2013)


“Too much of a good thing… is wonderful.”

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Scott Bakula, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds

Animal trainer Scott Thorson (Damon) is introduced to the pianist and entertainer Liberace (Douglas) by film producer Bob Black (Bakula), who explains that, obvious as it is to the gay community, straight audiences have no idea that Liberace is gay.

After helping with Liberace’s sick dog, Scott is invited to become his assistant, chauffeur and companion (professionally) and lover, beginning a relationship which lasts for several years, before Liberace’s controlling nature and infidelity, and Scott’s drug addiction pull them apart. Scott sues for palimony, but forced to accept a small settlement by Liberace’s powerful legal team. They are briefly reunited on Liberace’s deathbed, and at the funeral Scott imagines the consummate showman’s farewell performance.

What’s wrong with it?

Kill it! Kill it!
Kill it! Kill it!

Rob Lowe as plastic surgeon Jack Startz is terrifying. Terrifying.

As with any autobiography, you have to wonder about the accuracy. It’s critical enough of Thorson – whose memoirs were the main source and who is one of the few major players still alive – that it’s not an obvious snow job, but it’s always a question.

What’s right with it?

As you’d expect from Soderbergh, the film is gorgeously shot, with an eye to both the glitz and the grub of the period (the eighties again; I keep finding myself back there.) Any scene where Liberace or Thorson venture out of the closed world of showbusiness in their floor-sweeping furs is a study in juxtaposition.

The performances are truly amazing. Douglas and Damon have been rightly lauded, but the supporting cast are also great. Rob Lowe is, as I say, terrifying. Bakula rocks a mighty ‘tache and Dan Ackroyd is a picture of sinister banality as Liberace’s agent, Seymour Heller, whose job includes getting shot of Liberace’s exes.

How bad is it really?

We're getting into a whole weird area...
We’re getting into a whole weird area…

Behind the Candelabra is a beautiful film which treats its volatile subject with both considerable affection and a critical eye. It’s not exactly a feelgood movie, although it’s positively fluffy by Soderbergh’s standards.

Best bit (if such there is)?

It’s a film made up of moments, one of the best of which features Liberace’s mother, Frances (Reynolds), winning on an empty slot machine in his house and demanding her winnings despite never paying into the machine. Liberace tells her that she has all the cash they have on them, and she responds: “I’ll take a cheque.”

What’s up with…?

Kill it! Kill it!

  • The world? Seriously, this movie ended up being made by HBO because no theatrical production company would take it on, claiming it was ‘too gay’. That’s why it didn’t win any Oscars; it didn’t qualify having only been released in the UK.


Production values – Glorious, loving recreation of an era, grime and glory alike. 0
Dialogue and performances – Oscar worthy, if this film qualified for the Oscars. 3
Plot and execution – If it has a weakness, it’s that the ‘plot’ – being based on reality – is more a series of moments than a single, coherent narrative. 5
Randomness – The limo-on-stage entrance. The plastic surgery. The whole ‘father and lover’ aspect. This film is packed with randomness, pretty much all of which comes from real life. 2
Waste of potential – ‘Get me a couple of manly leading men; I want to recreate a troubled relationship between the most flamboyantly not-out gay star in the world and his toy boy.’ God damn but this film could have gone badly wrong. 0

Overall 10%


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