Anyone who’s seen a trailer for the new HBO original film already knows the gist of it. Behind the Candelabra is based on the autobiographical novel of the same name, with Matt Damon starring as Scott Thorson, the (much younger) lover of famous and flamboyant pianist Liberace, played by Michael Douglas.
Their 6-year relationship was carried on in secret — not only did Liberace’s audience not know he was gay, but he talked about attempting to adopt Thorson all whilst carrying on the sexual fantasies accessible to a rich performer of the time. Together, their world was filled with gold, drugs, luxury cars, and all of the glitzy hype that came with the Las Vegas lifestyle.
Behind the Candelabra is great because the atmosphere is sexual but not tacky (come on, it’s Michael Douglas we’re talking about). Sitting on my couch watching it with my boyfriend, I felt uncomfortable at times, but was forced to try to understand the social mentality present at the time. In Liberace’s peak period, the 60s-70s, gay culture was completely underground. No one talked about it or understood it.
Those who saw his show didn’t know he was gay because they simply couldn’t imagine the idea of being gay. They thought AIDS was an everyday disease, something you could catch from a dirty toilet seat. Obviously we know more now, but it’s incredible just how different things were back then, and sometimes we forget.
Director Steven Soderbergh assembled a cast of great and unexpected actors, including an almost unrecognizable Dan Ackroyd as Liberace’s manager, and an equally unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds as his mother, and left absolutely nothing off the table.
Being an HBO flick, many scenes were too graphic for my direct attention — and not the way you might think. I’m referring to the plastic surgery scenes in which Liberace pays to have Thorson look more like they could be related, which are all performed by Rob Lowe with an amusingly tightened face.
Matt Damon held these scenes together with tact and such heartfelt innocence that not even Thorson’s addiction to cocaine could slow him down (pun intended). When he’s upset about how Liberace treats him when their relationship begins to turn sour, you really feel the deception and frustration Thorson must have gone through.
Behind the Candelabra is a visual feast, and has exactly the amount of glitz and glamor that one could imagine coming from a movie about Liberace. Matt Damon and Michael Douglas are absolutely incredible in their own respects. When Liberace knocks Thorson down, we feel it. And when Thorson gets high and trips beyond comprehension in an erratic rage, we feel it.
This was a portrayal of the star’s life that even his most dedicated fans had no clues about until after his death. If you have the opportunity to watch it, do. Behind the Candelabra does not disappoint.