DRAMA; 1hr 59min
STARRING: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon
Lights, candelabra, action! Douglas
In director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese’s enticing biopic, Scott Thorson (Damon) is a 17-year-old Wisconsin-born, bisexual dog wrangler who, in 1977, is blown away by the flashorama Las Vegas show of 57-year-old pianist Liberace (Douglas). Introduced to “Lee” backstage, the shy and serious foster boy and the flamboyant yet essentially lonely celebrity discover a through-line of apartness that draws them together. The sexually voracious Lee takes an immediate shine, hiring Scott as his companion and playfully seducing him in short order.
It’s love, Liberace-style: mountains of bling, acres of sparkle, flash cars, bubbling spas, rococo costumes and Rob Lowe draping himself over the lizardy character of a pill-dealing plastic surgeon. The sybaritic relationship, meanwhile, devolves into a sliding scale, with Lee dictating every note before trading in his drug-raddled, frantic lover for a fresh model.
This truth, based on Thorson’s 1988 memoir, is gaudier than most fiction, portrayed with frank immediacy by Soderbergh and galvanised by the paradox of Douglas’s iron-taloned showmanship and Damon’s desperate vulnerability. With its brazen excesses and jaded appetites, Behind the Candelabra isn’t a new showbiz story. Then again, dissoluteness rarely gets old.