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Behind the Candelabra (2013)

Reviewed on 2013 May 30

Really raw tale of the world’s flashiest entertainer, and the hidden lifestyle he shared with his pretty boy companion.

Liberace (Michael Douglas, wearing 500 teeth and a marmoset on his head) dotes on his mother, and fiercely guards his private life. In the opening of the film, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), sitting at a bar, is approached by one of Liberace’s peripheral men (an unrecognizable Scott Bakula), Donna Summer blaring away in the background. It’s 1977, AIDS was not yet named or identified as a destroyer, and being the pampered quasi-assistant/boyfriend of The Greatest Showman in the World probably sounded like a wonderful deal to the young, broke, aspiring veterinarian.

Without knowing a thing about Liberace, you can tell from the first night that Scott meets Lee that this will not end well. And it’s like watching a big, shiny, sequined train crash.

The amazing thing is that because of Douglas’s charismatic portrayal, Lee is charming, pathetic and creepy at the same time. When he whines that he hates his life, you want to simultaneously hug him and slap the crap out of him. The production values were wonderful, including the makeup. They made Damon look like a college kid here, and despite the earlier snark about Douglas’s hair, it’s remarkable how much the man resembles Lee. It’s funny to watch Damon and Douglas both looking like Studio 54 leftovers, complete with enough gold jewelry to fill the teeth of everyone in a smaller state. Can you honestly say you don’t envy some of that wealth? I look at one of those rings and I see a mortgage payment, never mind that gaudy bed. And the piano music was wonderful. When Scott first sees Liberace playing his piano 16 beats to the bar, his mouth was open. So was mine.

Were his corny shows a lot of fun? I’m more of a Zeppelin girl but I’d have probably had a blast seeing one. Was Liberace a user? Totally. Did I feel sorry for him at the end? Absolutely.

Three chocolate morsels. Just…wow.


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