HBO premiered their mildly anticipated Liberace move, Behind the Candelabra tonight. Apparently HBO had upset some people because they preempted Game of Thrones tonight to run this movie, but I didn’t really notice any difference. So I watched this movie tonight, since I had said I would, mostly to see what they did with this movie. So how was it?
Well, in short, not great. I was surprised that HBO even did this movie since Liberace has been dead for 26 years. His fans when he was alive were already old as hell so I can’t imagine there would be many left around today who would be excited to see a behind the scenes look at a performer they had no idea was gay (I know, I know. Look, times were different back then, Austin Powers didn’t even know Liberace was gay so you can’t blame the rest of us either). So why make this movie? My guess is because they were able to get Matt Damon and Michael Douglas to sign on to this project along with director Steven Soderberg. Pretty big names for this pay cable movie.
Behind the Candelabra is based on the book written by Scott Thorson, Behind the Candelabra: My Life with Liberace. The book came out in 1988 and honestly, we all had to put up with all the book’s revelations back then. There was nothing new that came out with the HBO movie. It was just a rehashing of the same material performed by slightly more competent actors.
Rob Lowe’s performance as plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz was one of the highlights of the movie. He gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly where he discussed his transformation for the role and said that he spent 2 hours per day in the make up chair getting ready to play the inventor of the plastic surgery looking face. Now I don’t know if just 2 hours a day is a testament to the skill of the make up artist that worked on Lowe during filming for Behind the Candelabra or a function of it getting easier to make Rob Lowe look ugly. You’ll have to be the judge of that if you watch the movie.
The funniest part of the movie to me really had nothing to do with the film itself. There was a scene where it was the first night that Thorson (Matt Damon) spends with Liberace (Michael Douglas). In the morning, Thorson wakes up and finds Liberace laying right next to him in the bed staring at him watching him sleep and Thorson is startled. I couldn’t help but laugh. I was wondering if Catherine Zeta Jones had the same problem of being startled because she has to wake up every morning seeing Michael Douglas’s face. Juvenile? Yes.
The performances in Behind the Candelabra weren’t anything to write home about for sure but if shocking is what you were hoping for, then you probably got what you wanted. For some reason, Soderberg felt it necessary to show very graphic scenes of plastic surgery being performed. I’m talking Discovery Channel graphic. I don’t know what the purpose of this imagery was unless it was there to get your mind off the acting that was happening on the screen.
In addition to gratuitous shots of surgery, there was also several somewhat graphic scenes of Damon and Douglas getting it on together in the movie. If you ever wondered what it would be like for Matt Damon to kiss Michael Douglas, all you have to do is watch Behind the Candelabra because you would get your answer. Trust me when I tell you that your answers won’t be stopping there, even if you didn’t have any more questions. You will be getting more answers.
Overall I rate this movie as meh. I wasn’t impressed and I wasn’t bored to death. It was just there. It’s a subject I don’t think there is a huge amount of interest in (way to be topical HBO. Clara Peller, where’s the beef, also died in 1987. Perhaps you want to do a movie on her too?) and there was nothing new revealed in the movie that we didn’t already know about the relationship between Scott Thorson and Liberace. If you are looking for something mindless to take up some time for you, then go ahead and watch Behind the Candelabra. If you want to be entertained or you don’t think you would be able to scrub the image of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon getting it on, then I’d avoid this movie like the plague.