Behind the Candelabra
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 29th September 2013
Behind the Candelabra has glitz, glamour and pathos as it tells the mind-boggling story of the most flamboyantly closeted gay icon of our time – Las Vegas pianist and performer Liberace. Based on the telltale book by his much younger lover, it’s amazing to think this might just be true.
Famous for being director Steven Soderbergh’s final movie (at age 50 he’s retiring from cinema, though thankfully not from TV), Candelabra is warmed by yellow hues and golden glitter, from Matt Damon’s bouncy ’70s haircut to Michael Douglas’s gold slippers.
The acting on all counts is superb – Douglas excels at balancing Liberace’s nightclub camp with a heartfelt domestic longing which manifests in ways that may make you wriggle uncomfortably, yet is also tenderly sympathetic. Similarly, Damon is a wonder to behold – not just when he steps out of the swimming pool (cue gasps from both genders in the audience) but his film star status entirely deserved on the strength of his credible performance. From the innocence of his wide-eyed entrance into Liberace’s crazy world, Damon impresses in every scene on his bizarre and disturbing journey from toyboy to adoptive son.
And as for the production design… With glossy interiors to rival Paris Hilton’s house, the painstaking 1970s styling evokes Boogie Nights. You may not dream of exiting a chintzy limousine in a floorlength fur coat, but it’s sure fun to see it done by a character with a straight face and 100% commitment to living to excess.
The film has Soderbergh’s trademark edge (those who enjoyed Magic Mike for the grit as well as the spectacle will feel right at home) which is in keeping with the true story’s almost too-fantastical narrative. However, although much of it is played for laughs – Rob Lowe steals all his scenes, literally without lifting an eyebrow –miraculously this is still a heartfelt, wonderful film.