Jul 7, 2013

[Movies] Behind the Candelabra (2013)

We'll take a quick break from our on-going Know Your Oh Divas feature reviews this week and instead review a recent movie that certainly surprised me in many ways.

Behind the Candelabra first debuted at 2013 Cannes Film Festival, but then debuted on HBO within the same week. This certainly gave it a wider reach in terms of audiences. Since then the movie was formally released theatrically in the UK in June of this year.

I don't have any strong feelings about Liberace for or against him, he's certainly a most interesting and peculiar character in entertainment history. And this biographical movie tries to address one of the bigger questions about him in terms of his sexuality - something that he fiercely defended in the public eye.

Thus beyond the ridiculous costumes, the rings and the fur coats, we get a glimpse of the man through the eyes of one who loved him. Or at least someone who thinks he loved him - it's really hard to tell given the rather strange life of this talented musical artist.

Synopsis: Behind the Candelabra is a 2013 drama movie based on the memoir of Scott Thorson, Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace. It was directed by Steven Soderbergh with a screenplay by Richard LaGravenese.

It's 1977 and 17 year old Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) leaves his life as an animal trainer for Hollywood movies in search of a better job. One thing leads to another and his new friend Bob Black (Scott Bakula) introduces him to the legendary Liberace. (Michael Douglas). After being brought backstage after a performance, Scott notices that one of Liberace's dogs is suffering from partial blindness but is aware of how to treat it. He treats the dog and eventually cure him, thus somehow reinforcing the notion in Liberace's mind that Scott is someone worth trusting.

Scott is then hired to be Liberace's assistant and spends more and more time at his mansion. Eventually they begin a sexual relationship in secret - at least from the general public. He moves in with Liberace and is showered with different gifts and presents including luxurious furs, jewelry and the odd offer of plastic surgery to make Scott look more like Liberace. But Scott just accepts all these gifts and continues to live a life well above his station thanks to his lover. And thus he is being molded into becoming some sort of junior version of Librace including a modest role in his shows.

First off, the make-up and styling behind this movie is downright phenomenal. Even with the cast list in hand, I couldn't immediately identify the actors involved in some of the roles, especially Michael Douglas as Liberace. And the brilliance ranges from this larger than life depiction of the man but also to strange details like Rob Lowe's ridiculously sculpted face - the victim of years of his own preferences (and of course skills) for plastic surgery.

Couple this with Douglas' amazing performance as the eccentric pianist, and this movie becomes a different kind of spectacle entirely. It's hard to believe that this is the same actor that has played so many gruff, serious characters over the years. And while this movie is also serious, the range of acting demanded by the role certainly goes to show just how impressive Michael Douglas really is. And it didn't feel like he was just some cheap caricature of the man - it felt like an honest attempt to bring the man to life for the purposes of telling this story.

The movie is so richly immersed in the time period. This includes the costumes, the dialog references and the many different hair styles. The level of detail invested in making this movie such an immersive experience for viewers is something that deserves honest praise and respect. They could have cut more corners in terms of how the movie could have been put together.

I'm still not a Matt Damon fan and he wasn't overly impressive in this movie. He wasn't necessarily that bad either, and that still deserves the respect that he is due. One could surely see the effort he also put into the role in the hopes of making a respectable portrayal of Scott, although at times young naivety felt a bit more like inadvertently emotionless acting.

Behind the Candelabra is a bold, surprisingly good movie. It's a hard story to tell and they made an admirable effort of telling in a way that was true to Liberace and yet also open to the prospects of his homosexuality being more than just a rumor. Thus I rate the movie a good 4 strange plastic surgeries out of a possible 5.

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