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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jul 13, 2013

Behind The Candelabra Movie Review: Michael Douglas & Matt Damon Give Great Performances As Gays

WE’RE WONDERING why “Behind the Candelabra” was not released in theatre but just shown on TV by HBO then on video, when it has A list actors (who both deliver exceptional performances), directed by no less than Steve Soderbergh (“Traffic”, “Erin Brokovich”, “Side Effects”) and got rave reviews at the Cannes Filmfest. The film shows the last decade (1977 to 1986) in the life of the flamboyant celebrity pianist Walter “Lee” Liberace (Michael Douglas), based on the memoir “My Life with Liberace” written by his ex-lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).

It begins with them meeting in Las Vegas (Scott was 18 and Lee was already 58) and ends with Lee’s demise from an illness that’s related to AIDS. Scott is a show dog trainer who claims to be bisexual while Liberace has never admitted in public that he’s gay. The well written script by Richard LaGravenese truly defines the two major characters well. We learn that Scott comes from a dysfunctional family with a very problematic mom and grew up in so many foster homes. Lee is very much attached to his own mom (Debbie Reynolds, who’s barely recognizable here) and was initiated into homosexuality while still in his native Wisconsin by a football player from the Green Bay Packers.

Scott becomes a driver-bodyguard for Lee. He doesn’t want to see himself as a kept boy, but he accepts all the expensive gifts Lee lavishes on him. The film shows that Lee becomes so enamoured with him that he even asked a cosmetic surgeon (Rob Lowe) to make Scott look like him so that they will appear like father and son. They achieve some weird kind of marital bliss but you just know it’s all fleeting and can’t last forever.

They are locked in their own bizarre private world, not meeting other people. Scott becomes addicted to drugs as a result of his facial “retoke” and Lee is naturally promiscuous so he starts flirting with other young boys, leading into fits of jealousy. The parting is bitter and ends up in court. But towards the end, it becomes sentimental when Scott gets a call from the dying Lee. Their final scene together is very touching and supremely well acted. At Lee’s funeral, Scott is then shown having a vision of Lee making his final performance before going up to heaven, to give the film an ending that smacks of celebration instead of tragedy.

Soderberg nails the right treatment for the movie, which is simultaneously campy (from the production design to the costumes), kitschy, funny, but also a very stylish and moving portrait of celebrity loneliness. Even Liberace would be pleased with Soderberg’s interpretation of his life and career. Soderberg has announced that he’s retiring from directing after this. Well, his work behind the camera surely will be missed. Also deserving special mention is the splendid musical score and piano work of the late Marvin Hamlisch.

If this were released theatrically, both Douglas and Damon can very well qualify for Oscar nomination. Douglas captures not only the over the top narcissism of his peacock character but also the empty loneliness he feels and his hunger for true love, investing it with much sensitivity and sympathy. He has the more showy part, but Damon is no less awesome to behold from his being an innocent teener to his gradual deterioration as a drug-addicted “retoke” blond beauty mercilessly discarded by his formerly doting patron. Giving great support are Rob Lowe as the plastic surgeon with a face so rigid from botox), Dan Aykroyd as Lee’s Jewish manager Seymour, and Scott Bakula as Bobby, the mutual friend who introduced Scott and Lee to each other.

The script is full of humorous dialogue and bitchy one liners. Lee asking after a major facial lift: “Will I be able to close my eyes again?” The answer he gets: “No, not entirely.” And don’t miss the irony of Scott reading Lee’s printed autobiography where he lies about his sexual preference and even professes his love for a woman, Sonia Heinje.

Everything that the local TV show “My Husband Lover” fails to show is very much in abundance here. We can no longer count how many times Douglas and Damon exchange hot lips to lips kisses all throughout the movie. Damon shows his fully naked backside several times and, in one scene, is even shown humping Douglas. We’re sure fans of TomDen are wishing they’d also see their idols engaged in similar sizzling scenes, but sorry, our own moralists here simply won’t allow such lurid and controversial sequences to be aired on national TV.