It’s an understatement to say that Behind The Candelabra is a Lifetime Movie. It’s more than that. It’s a Lifetime Movie as produced by HBO and directed by Steven Soderbergh. It’s a Lifetime Movie that dreams of being the cinematic cousin of Boogie Nights or, at least, Gia. And it almost succeeds, owing mainly to heavy mood lighting and the generous use of silent steady-cam shots. But when that quiet breaks with a line of dialogue like this:
Liberace: I have an eye for new and refreshing talent.
Scott (bitterly): You have an eye for new and refreshing dick.
BOOM – it’s like someone blew a fart in an empty room.
Behind The Candelabra is, in the words of Mr. Max, a bizarre, inexplicable movie. Instead of treading the standard biopic territory of fame/career arc, it focuses mainly on the creepy courtship of Liberace and his
employee manservant child stand-in lover paid gigolo boyfriend significant other, Scott.
Their relationship begins when Liberace hires the foster teen — played with cornfed simplicity by Matt Damon – to be his “personal secretary” and chauffeur his enormous fur performance coat (which sounds like a double entendre, but actually isn’t).
Also, to look like a lost member of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Scott moves into the big mansion with Liberace and the rest of his Entourage of Insanity and assumes the role of
head-of-household boyfriend prized Pomeranian. He spends his days poolside, making use of his new collection of bedazzled speedos.
Guess what’s also part of Scott’s job description? SEX.
Good thing Scott’s easygoing because it turns out that Liberace has a yen for some pretty freaky stuff. Because it’s HBO and they can’t help themselves, we get lots of scenes involving the singer’s porn addiction, patronage of sex clubs, and penis implants. Mom, if you’re reading this feel free to stop any time.
It’s not all about sex – there’s shopping and jewelry, too (thanks, montage). Liberace even promises to eventually adopt parent-less Scott, which is wrong on too many levels to explain.
Fretting about his aging face, Liberace decides it’s time for a consult with his personal plastic surgeon (played by Rob Lowe wearing a Kato Kaelin mask).
Scott tags along for moral support and Liberace decides he’d like to front the cash for a new face for him, too. And guess what it should resemble?
A YOUNG LIBERACE, OF COURSE.
I think we can all agree that surgically twinning your romantic partner is unacceptably creepy. Scott recognizes this but is unable to say no to his powerful sugar daddy, so they both go under the knife.
At this point, Mr. Max said, “I think I need a ‘making of’ featurette on the prosthetics used in the making of this film.”.
However, even new faces can’t save the relationship. Horndog Liberace gets a case of the wandering eye and gives Scott the bogus “our relationship is strong enough for us to see other people” chat. They fight a lot, mostly over jealousy and Scott’s addiction to the
cocaine “energy pills” the plastic surgeon prescribed for weight loss.
During an argument, Scott voices regret over giving up his dream of being a veterinarian to become Liberace’s kept boy, to which Liberace replies,
“Want to help animals? Clean up some of this dog shit.”
I don’t know about the real Liberace, but as played by Michael Douglas he seems more than a little sociopathic. “Hiring” a boyfriend and forcing him to have plastic surgery to look like you? Taking advantage of troubled youth?
Pretty cold, bro.
Liberace eventually finds other guys to hang with and kicks Scott to the curb. Scott refuses to vacate their palatial home, threatening first to call the police and then the mafia (!) before he’s dragged out of the house by Liberace’s goons.
TIL Liberace had goons. Who knew?
After that, they lose touch, reuniting only briefly before Liberace’s death from AIDS complications.
Serious aside: This part made me think maybe it’s gross to be exploiting a real person’s life story for campy TV schlock? Just maybe?
The final scene takes place at Liberace’s funeral, which dissolves into fantasy when the casket flies away to reveal a ghost Liberace talk-singing “The Impossible Dream.”
I waited until I finished writing this recap/review before I did any googling because I didn’t want to be influenced by (what I assumed would be) a flood of joke reviews and hate tweets. I was stunned to learn that a lot of people think this movie is actually really good. It even won the audience award at Cannes. Huh?
Well, I’m sticking with my story. After all, I predicted that Black Swan would end up on Lifetime even after it won an Academy Award and I WAS RIGHT. It’s only a matter of time for this one.