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‘Behind the Candelabra’ is both revealing and shallow


Michael Douglas stars as the flamboyant entertainer Liberace, and Matt Damon plays his secret lover in the new HBO film, “Behind the Candelabra.”

Michael Douglas doesn’t do an exact impersonation but it’s pretty close. And when you drape Douglas in all the rhinestones and furs that were de rigueur for Liberace, it doesn’t take much of a leap to see him as Mr. Showmanship himself.

But since the film is called “BEHIND the Candelabra,” we get more than just his “stage” presence. This is a look at the personal life of one of the most closeted men in show business history. It’s a look based on the memoir of one of his intimates, a guy named Scott Thorsen, played to the hilt by Matt Damon.

They first met backstage when Scott was in his late teens and Liberace in his late 50’s. In the movie, Douglas says he has a great idea, “Why don’t you come work for me?”

“As what?” asks Damon’s Thorsen.
“You could be my secretary.”
“I don’t type.”

“Hell Scott, I can pay people to type. I need a companion, a bodyguard, someone to keep people off my back someone I can talk to, the way we talked tonight. Please, say yes Scott.”

Damon’s Scott is a pretty blond boytoy for Liberace to shower his money and his attentions on.

Scott can’t believe his good fortune. As Liberace’s partner, he gets to perform every night as his on-stage chauffeur and spends every day living the glamorous life. But as Scott eventually finds out, that life comes at a steep price – including having to get plastic surgery to make his face look more like Liberace’s.

“Behind the Candelabra” manages to be both revealing and shallow. If the memoir is to be believed, the film exposes a lot about Liberace’s behaviors but it’s pretty skimpy on what makes him tick.

There’s an undeniably gossip-y appeal to the movie, an appeal that’s only heightened by seeing Oscar-winners Douglas and Damon play such flamboyant sex partners. And yes, their lovemaking is relatively explicit. What’s most surprising about it all is how committed each actor is to playing it “straight,” so to speak. No camp allowed. A feat even Liberace himself couldn’t pull off.

Directed by Steven Soderberg, it premieres Sunday night on HBO.

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