Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Short Cut Movie Review: Behind the Candelabra

Short Cut Movie Review is normally less than 400 words, but in some cases may go slightly over. This is my attempt to keep writing about as many films as I see without getting bogged down with trying to find more to say. They are meant to be brief snapshots of my reaction to a movie without too much depth.

I didn't know much of anything about Liberace except that he was a flamboyant pianist with grand spectacle performances and outlandish costumes. I can't say after seeing Steven Soderbergh's Behind the Candelabra that I know much more about the man and his life overall because it's a biopic that steers clear of the wide scope vision to focus on a several years period of his late life and the effect he had on one individual in particular.

In fact, it's more the story of Scott Thorson, Liberace's secret lover for about six years in the late 70s and early 80s. After all, Richard LaGravenese adapted Thorson's book for the screenplay so while it spends its early moments sort of enamored with Liberace's fashion sense, warm and generous personality, and lavish lifestyle, it eventually reveals him to be narcissistic, grandiose, fickle, and self-serving. But he still doesn't come off as a bad guy! Whether or not it's an accurate portrayal of the man or not is beside the point. It's a study of how a larger-than-life force of fame can have such a strong effect on others, especially a young and vulnerable man like Scott, although he is certainly not without his faults as he gradually falls into jealousy and despair (spurred on by Liberace's waning affections and fleeting attention) and drug abuse.

Soderbergh took a long time to bring this story to the screen and in the end it took HBO, not a Hollywood studio, to take a chance on a romantic film involving two men that was unflinching in its depiction of physical affection. It was well worth the wait. It is a stylish film with two fantastically entertaining performances from Matt Damon as Scott and Michael Douglas as Liberace. These are two actors who took big risks with this production and it pays off because the result is an honest portrayal of love and jealousy.

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