Written by / 12/26/2015 / No comments / , , , ,

MICHAEL DOUGLAS & MATT DAMON GO 'BEHIND THE CANDELABRA'

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in Behind The Candelabra 2013
At one point, Michael Douglas, after enough time channelling the ultra-effeminate, Las Vegas piano playing virtuoso, Liberace, gets a surge of Alpha Male via Gordon Gekko from WALL STREET when Matt Damon, as the glittery star's boyfriend for around five years, Scott Thorson, defends himself in a Charlie Sheen/Bud Fox put-upon whine when their relationship is compared to a classic sit-com...

Caught in Lib's Web
"Why am I the 'Lucy'?" Scott complains. "Because," says Douglas's Liberace with blunt finality, "I've got the Nightclub Act!" And Michael doesn't hold back much of anything in Steven Soderbergh's HBO original BEHIND THE CANDELABRA, centering on Liberace just as he's nearing has-been status: but only outside the perpetual gleam of Las Vegas, where he reigns with enough glitter and gold to put Fort Knox blush...

Dan Aykroyd's Seymour Heller's ongoing damage control
With a stubborn and blunt Jewish agent Seymour Heller (Dan Aykroyd resembling Andy Kaufman's bogus lounge singer Tony Clifton) making him the hardest-working act in Sin City, we're able to experience not only what's BEHIND all the sparkle, but random performances on stage to make our centerpiece seem talented enough to base a movie on... which of course he was, but as an actor persuading a movie or TV audience, imitating a musician (one of the best in the world) isn't always easy, or realistic... And according to both Thorson and Liberace's buddy (Scott Bakula playing a sort of White Rabbit character that doesn't mean much beyond introducing the couple), Mr. Entertainment's audience supposedly had no idea he was a homosexual, and, well, let's be honest here: most people must have known, deep down, but just didn't dwell on it: enjoying his immense talent in a sort of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Care" before "coming out" meant (and still means) more than having the talent to make it matter in the first place: gay first, celebrity second seems to be the new politically-correct standard, but at one time, from Montgomery Clift to Anthony Perkins to Paul Lynde, talent meant everything.

Soakin' in Libbie's Lair
Beyond his big secret, Liberace's life was a non-stop work ethic that, according to him, didn't derive from his mother, played by an accented Debbie Reynolds in a tour de force fashion... and taking this reviewer a few seconds to realize it's her... or his long dead, deadbeat musician father... But his source was from God Himself... A proud Catholic!

Debbie Reynolds vanishes in the role as Lee's mother
And perhaps even a Republican as, in one extremely ironic scene, as the outspoken liberal Damon is seen in the foreground, we see and hear Liberace complaining about how Jane Fonda and Ed Asner put politics above being entertainers... And there's a fine line with what Liberace was hiding from the press to what he was open about in the presence of hired help within the multi-million dollar mansion, and was no stranger to secret spots around Vegas where gay sex wasn't being practiced in the safest manner. Yet most of the film occurs during the pre-AIDS era, following the loose disco decade and rolling into the "Conservative 1980's" (which, with the number of raunchy sex comedies, and tons of movies and music videos against President Reagan, it really wasn't... at least not the media) wherein a licorice curving font, beginning in 1977, displays sporadic years, and 1985 flashes on the screen right after a magazine ad about a dying Rock Hudson is shown...

Damon's glam rockstar look
At this point, after the media-blitzed breakup, it's pretty much a downhill Disease of the Week that does, in fact, resemble a TV movie... despite cable being the new cinema nowadays... Thus the most risque scenes occur right before their love story becomes truly bizarre and morbid... Liberace passively ordering Thorson to go under the knife to surgically resemble his, Liberace's, younger self, which is the epitome of fact being stranger than fiction. Although, Damon still looks pretty much the same: like Matt Damon. But some of the best use of computerized-cleansing occurs in the beginning, as the still semi lucrative box-office actorl is made to look even younger than when his fame ignited in GOOD WILL HUNTING...

The bad doctor
Eventually, Scott turns into a boy-toy primadonna, and it's fun seeing Liberace's futzy partners and/or young stud "assistants" being literally shoved out the door (with a check handed to them by Heller)... And so, when Scott eventually realizes he could be next on the list, that aforementioned Disease melodrama becomes (beforehand) a sort of mundane Anti-Drug programmer... yet more realistic and intense than most. In one scene, Thorson and Nicky Katt's coke/speed dealing Mr. Y are sitting around, moaning to themselves while rocking back and forth: which is actually what intense "tweeking" really looks like...

Although originally, Thorson didn't need a secret source when scene-stealing Rob Lowe, playing plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz (resembling a cross between Michael Jackson and something out of THE DARK CRYSTAL... which is what Jackson resembled as well), follows Liberace's orders to not only alter the aging kid's mug, but to make him skinny again with an endless prescription of speed pills leading to Thorson's eventual drug-riddled downfall, which is probably why he wrote the book that inspired this movie in the first place: he didn't get much of a payoff since, during the 1980's, exposing a beloved cash cow (especially in Vegas) wasn't the wisest choice. Plus he had to admit that Liberace wasn't only his lover, but an adopted father. Strange days indeed!

Scott gets a Rolls Royce for Christmas BTC RATES: ****
Thorson's denial of his own sexuality is as intriguing as Liberace's stubborn drive to remain not only straight in the eyes of his die-hard old-time fans, but to keep any rumor out of the papers, ultimately Thorson's ace in the hole that, like everything else in his life, folds completely...

And with a BOOGIE NIGHTS vibe propelling two straight actors not exactly taking a risk in a politically-correct era, but truly stretching beyond their usual mainstream characteristics, providing more than a glimpse into where motion pictures won't go, prompting the OCEANS ELEVEN director, upon several studio rejections to make this passion project theatrical, to give up big screen cinema while sustaining within the risque cable medium: where it actually fits much better, and looser...

The only really noticeable, distracting downside is that, at times, this BEHIND feels a bit too much like Thorson's own one-sided propaganda piece. For example, on their first "date" as he's looking bashful and shocked, reluctant, vulnerable and apprehensive sitting in Liberace's jacuzzi... did he really not know what would happen next? For the most part, Thorson's portrayed as an oblivious babe-in-the-woods under the predatory eyes of the famous pianist, who becomes somewhat infamous here, at times bordering on DADDY DEAREST... and he's interesting too. Or is that Douglas's doing? Sometimes it's tough to tell good from bad, right from wrong, real from fake, what or who's going or has already gone too far. And yet, CANDELABRA is a ultra-entertaining biopic either way. Let's the viewer be the judge, but not without the jury being swayed. 
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