Following a backstage introduction, young show-dog trainer Scott Thorson (Damon) and aging superstar pianist Liberace (Douglas) embark on a secret love affair. Living like a married couple, both are very happy with this arrangement to begin with, but over the course of six years their relationship gradually starts to fall apart…
Most of the time, productions that are made for television simply aren’t good enough to be released as feature films. With Behind The Candelabra, however, this absolutely isn’t the case, as Steven Soderbergh’s bling-filled biopic only went down the small-screen route after it was deemed “too gay” for a theatrical release in America. Indeed, it could be argued that Soderbergh’s final film is also one of his finest, providing further proof that the prolific director will be sorely missed when he decides to call it a day. Fun and entertaining yet lined with a dark edge, it’s a diamond-encrusted domestic drama that plays out as a series of snapshots in a gradually dissolving marriage. In the interest of full disclosure, there are a few instances of Douglas-on-Damon heavy petting (and vice versa), but the film is so well-judged that it never feel excessive or tasteless in the slightest. Happily, there’s also plenty of sly humour (see Rob Lowe’s expressionless plastic surgeon), while the last third proves surprisingly affecting.
Ultimately, though, a movie like this lives or dies on its lead performance, and Michael Douglas is more than up to the task. As a leading man whose career has been defined by his rugged heterosexuality (think Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, etc), he’s certainly not the first name you’d think of when casting a mincing icon who essentially defined the word camp. But Douglas utterly disappears into the role, capturing both the flamboyant stage-performer side of Liberace (watch him nailing the infectious boogie woogie routine) and the tragic, lonely man behind the curtain. As the ‘straight man’, for lack of a better phrase, Matt Damon is equally impressive and worthy of praise, especially considering he’s playing the less-showy part that could so easily have been eclipsed by Douglas’ flashier turn. Yes, their rise-and-fall love affair hits all the beats you might expect (it’s clear when Scott is about to be replaced – and by who), but Douglas and Damon deserve credit for creating one of the most convincing on-screen couples in years. Just fabulous.
Fun, entertaining and well-judged, Behind The Candelabra is absolutely fabulous.