Friday, May 31, 2013
HBO's "Too Gay for Movie Studios" Behind the Candelabra
Studios are surely regretting the decision now, since the film has scored some big ratings (especially for Memorial Day weekend). Soderbergh tried to get financing for the film, shopping it around to all of the major movie studios. Essentially--according to the director himself--they didn't want to take a risk financing a movie about Liberace and his young gay lover. It's surprising: the subject and performances are ripe Oscar bait, and there isn't any graphic anal sex--just simulated without really showing that much.
You'd also think that film focuses more on Liberace, but the story follows Scott Thorson particularly (makes sense, since the film is sort-of based upon Thorson's memoir, titled Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace).Though it's a bit one-sided in Thorson's favor, Behind the Candelabra simply boils down to a love story: an arc that deals with all of the highs and lows of relationships, two partners with huge age differences, and the notion that money and celebrity--with all of its glamorous material objects--can buy love. It's all pretty standard, but the two main performances elevate it to slightly above average. Thorson was an orphan, in and out of foster homes, and when he goes to a Liberace performance with a friend, they end up backstage. When the two main stars lock eyes, it's clear the sparks fly: Thorson is transfixed by Liberace's eccentric skill at music and working a room, and Liberace almost licks his lips at the young and virginal beefcake that stands before him.
Liberace becomes a father figure for Thorson, and a lot of weird dynamics start appearing between the two. Lib "hires" Thorson to be his right hand man: being his chauffeur, his buffer to the fans and press, that type of thing. Maybe they start falling in love. Or maybe Thorson is brainwashed by the glitz of Liberace's lifestyle and decides that living in a mansion with unlimited money ain't such a bad deal. As their relationship progresses, problems start arising. Lib is obsessed with himself, and he tries to control Thorson's every move. He even hires a plastic surgeon (played hilariously by Rob Lowe) to make Scott look more like himself. it's all narcissistic and gross. Their relationship as lovers merges into other less healthy notions: a father/son and employer/employee dynamic. The rise and fall of their time together is the basis for the film's story.
As Soderbergh's last movie, it's a worthy addition to his filmography. But it doesn't make any grand statements that will cause it to become a classic that people will remember when they think of his directing efforts. Sure, the whole thing looks great: he captures the glitz and glamour that Liberace personified in the 1970's and 1980's, and instead of overpowering the scenes with flashy direction, he lets the actors act, usually in intimate settings. And that's precisely where Behind the Candelabra shines: the moments when Lib and Scott are all alone, either at the beginning of their relationship, when there was a nervous tension and excitement that shows on Damon's face, or during the downfall, when every argument and betrayal cuts as deep as a plastic surgeon's knife. (B)