The year is 1976 and Liberace is at the peak of his stardom in Las Vegas. He brings in bigger crowds than Elvis and doesn’t want the world to know he is gay. However his love for all that sparkles and buff men makes keeping his true sexual needs a bit of a problem and when he meets the young, blond Scott Thorson six years of passion begin.
Behind the Candelabra is a very funny and at times heart-warming film based on the same titled autobiographical novel written by Scott Thorson. The ageing Liberace is brilliantly brought to life by Michael Douglas and his young “blond Adonis” Scott is the very buff Matt Damon.
Like a peacock in full plume Liberace (Douglas) struts around his home not wanting to mingle with the outside world but preferring the control he holds behind closed doors and on stage. With his toupee covering his biggest shame Liberace lusts after young men in their prime. When bisexual Scott Thorson (Damon) moves in as a kept boyfriend a cycle of co-dependency and emotional turmoil begins
With lots of glitz, glam and 70s-style hairdos Behind the Candelabra does a brilliant job of bringing the hyper-kitsch world of Liberace to life. The narcissistic, brilliant pianist spares no cost in getting what he wants, even going so far as convincing his young lover Scott to undergo horrific plastic surgery.
Director Steven Soderbergh has managed the perfect balance between super-camp and gentle sentimentality. Both Douglas and Damon show no fear and display great acting skills combined with lots of vulnerability. And since most of the screen time is taken up by their passionate relationship all other characters fade into the background. That’s said Rob Lowe is the brilliantly sinister cosmetic surgeon Dr Jack Startz, whose own face resembles that of a mask.
Behind the Candelabra is not just a black comedy, but a tender tale of love, loneliness, stardom and “sugar daddies”. Nothing is hidden, the candelabra is moved aside and it’s light shows the audience all that lies behind the façade.