"Too much of a good thing really is wonderful..."
Director Steven Soderbergh had apparently retired, with recent picture Side Effects supposedly his final feature film. Well, such a myth has since been dispelled as he returns with Behind the Candelabra, based on the real life relationship between entertainer Liberace and his young lover Scott Thorson. In what is arguably the filmmaker's finest ever piece of work, it seems that he needs to retire more often. In this is really his last however, though a shame, it's by no means a bad thing. As Liberace would himself encourage himself: go out with a bang.
When Scott (Matt Damon) is taken to one of Liberace's (Michael Douglas) famous Las Vegas shows, he instantly falls for the lavish performer, and having been introduced to him backstage, a rapport between the pair is instantly formed and soon leads into a full blown sexual affair, and one that even sees the latter attempt to legally adopt his young lover. However as the years progress, their tempestuous relationship shows signs of fallibility, as Scott's drug problems and Liberace's reluctance for the public to discover he is homosexual, begins to cause a problems in this once beautiful, if completed guarded, romance between the two.
It's so effective how we are first introduced to Liberace, as we see him for the very first time from Scott's perspective, as a charismatic showman who knows how to work a crowd. Instantly we can see the charm and appeal, and we see him in the same way Scott does, looking into this supposedly glamorous world through innocent eyes. However glamour is something of a loose term in this film, as what lies beneath, or what is 'behind the candelabra' if you will, is gritty and volatile.
Soderbergh has done a fantastic job of portraying this superficial world, as the aesthetic is so colourful and grandiose, and yet there is a cold and somewhat seedy undercurrent running through this title; of two lonely men who are suffering from not being able to be who they really want to be. The characters also portray such a sentiment, as they wear so much make-up and wear such grand outfits, they always look the part. However such an image is merely a bravado for lies underneath; two deeply unhappy people, repressed homosexuals who tragically feel as though they must put on a façade at all times to be accepted. You do feel that this picture has finally given the pair a platform for their story to be told, and brought to the attentions of the general public, bringing closure to their tale, in some respects. While Liberace says in this picture, "My real dream is to be a movie star". Well, now you are - and you're in one hell of a movie.
The performances from our leading duo are nothing short of exceptional, with Damon in particular standing out. That isn't to say Douglas isn't superb either, but he is completely camping it up, whereas Damon turns in a more subtle performance, which you would imagine is harder to pull off. That said, Douglas does have a sadness behind the eyes, yet when he smiles and seems genuinely happy, he makes you feel warm. You can see not only the loneliness, but the charm that has forged such a triumphant career and beguiled the young Scott. In the meantime, an acknowledgement must be made for Rob Lowe, playing plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz, who completely transforms himself to play this plastic-faced doctor. Speaking from experience here, if you practise your Rob Lowe face too often, you will get jaw ache. Perfect for whiling away the time though.
Behind the Candelabra is incredibly funny, it's poignant, it's tragic and at times, completely emotional, with a moving finale that really rounds the film up and brings clarity to everything that came before. There are few films this year that will be able to make you laugh and cry so freely and simultaneously. This is an absolute must-see, and to verify a quote that Liberace famously once said, too much of a good thing really is wonderful.