“Honey, in gay years you’re Judy during the Sid Luft obese period.”
Liberace! OK well, you might have never heard of him if you’re not over 35, but in case you didn’t know the name (Władziu Valentino Liberace), he was a world renowned piano player and performer who peaked in the late seventies. And he was SUPER gay. Except for nobody really knew he was gay. Which I’m surprised, because he’s always struttin’ around like Miss Thang, his outfits reflecting light like a giant disco ball.
When he happens to meet a friend of a friend one night after his Vegas show, it’s fate. Scott Thorson (Matt Damon), a young LA foster boy who also happens to be from the forgotten state of Wisconsin, quickly gets lured into the piano player’s indulgent lifestyle. The glitz and glam is very desirable to young Scott, and Scott’s youth is very desirable for Liberace.
Things start to get a little (more) weird when Liberace notices himself starting to look old—like his father!—on television one night. Feeling insecure about his aging, he consults expert plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz (Rob Lowe, whose unbelievable makeup transformation is my favorite) to fix the problem. Nothing a few cuts and a couple chemical peels can’t fix! But Liberace has other plans in the case of extreme makeovers—to morph his lover into his perfect young doppelgänger.
At first the idea of surgery frightens the very sheltered Scott, but he agrees to go under the knife and lose his “belly” with the California Diet (lots and lots of pills!) for the sake of his love. But as we all know, these types of things can only last so long, and the reality of the two’s relationship lies in the fact Liberace is a very lonely, old, closeted gay man, and Scott is still a young soul trapped inside an extravagantly sheltered life. And he doesn’t even have his own face anymore!
When Scott starts to get brushed aside and other young men start to catch Liberace’s eye, Liberace is quick to be in denial, saying he has “an eye for new and refreshing talent.” But Scott insists this eye for “talent” is really just an eye for “new and refreshing dick.” Ha!
Behind the Candelabra is as much as you’d want out of a biopic, adapted right from Thorson’s book about the two’s five year-long relationship. Soderbergh, who said this would be his last film, noted that HBO allowed him to produce the film in ways a studio never would have—which really makes it exceptional. If only Michael Douglas were eligible to be nominated for an Oscar (I think this is my favorite performance by him yet, and I’m one of the biggest Wall Street fans there is), because he is the real deal here.