4 stars
Stephen Soderbergh's 'too gay' biopic of Liberace's relationship with the younger Scott Thorson was picked up by HBO – paralleling Psycho some decades before, studios wouldn't touch the golden director's crazy project despite Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the leads. “And this is after Brokeback Mountain,” he said, “which is not as funny as this movie”. Perhaps they feared his fearsome lawyers. Their loss: Douglas's lead performance is one of potentially award-winning distinction, with solid support from Damon as a country kid bedazzled by diamontes.

Young Scott's chance encounter with the celebrated entertainer ushers in the new and replaces the old (namely the previous young thing Liberace had turned into a vision of himself. There's a theme building here). But before you can say tiaras, the tantrums begin and in the snap of a finger, now-junkie Scott finds himself on the ex-shag pile at Liberace's back door. No one is going to threaten maestro or his reputation. Between first spotlight and final curtain, Soderbergh charts the rise and fall of love, Vegas style.

Soderbergh's (Magic Mike) glittering production is proof that his potential swan song (the director has stated an intention to take time out) underlines how much Hollywood needs him. This adaptation of Thornson's memoirs oozes wit, charm and dignity (not easy to do in a mirrored g-string) as the central character looses his innocence and in one toe-curling scene, his face, as he works hard for Lee's love. With a couple of notable exceptions, this is a traditionally shot and simply narrated tale of romance, from the first electric look of lust to death-bed reconciliation. And it's better for it.

Douglas easily captures Liberace's folksy charm, structured generosity, bitchiness and cowardice amid a desperation to maintain his public appearance. Believe it or not, his (largely female) fans had no idea this Mummy's boy of a fur-clad peacock was gay. And you should believe it. Rob Lowe as his facially challenged plastic surgeon and Thorson's dealer is hysterical: “Will I be able to close my eyes again?” - “Not entirely, no...” Look out for a virtually unrecognisable Debbie Reynolds in feisty support.

Whilst Douglas is a standout, it's the sum of parts which makes Behind The Candelabra such a joy: Soderbegh's deft touch, costume, design and Marvin Hamlisch's pulsing score. It is, by turns, outrageously camp, astoundingly funny and powerfully moving as the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese (Beautiful Creatures) hits every beat of a life lived to excess. For as Liberace would say, too much of a good thing is wonderful!


Previewed at Cannes Film Festival, May 2013



Michael Douglas
Matt Damon
Scott Bakula
Rob Lowe

Stephen Soderbergh

Richard LaGravenese



118 minutes

July 25, 2013
Behind the Candelabra (2013) on IMDb
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