This is one of the films I’ve been aiming to watch this year, catching up on some of the great film and TV that I’ve missed recently. Behind the Candelabra is a HBO ‘TV movie’ but aired at Cannes and in cinemas quickly after being shown on TV, based on the autobiographical novel by Scott Thorson about his life with Liberace.
I am too young to remember Liberace, except by reputation, so the story was mostly news to me. Like most viewers, I think, I wanted to watch the film in order to see the incongruous pairing of Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, which is exaggerated by the need for Damon to portray a lad in his late teens for a large swathe of the film. The film accepts and plays with this, and there is an air of spoof or comedy skit in the first half. Douglas is hamming it up — although this is perhaps not too far from reality — and during his ‘seduction’ of Damon, is eminently creepy. Damon is not shy about poking fun at himself (e.g. the Jimmy Kimmel/Matt Damon “feud”), and so he carries off playing the young Scott with aplomb, embracing the incongruity. Other actors pop up in the background, notably Rob Lowe, but also Scott Bakula, also playing tongue-in-cheek.
Overall, the film is amusing, although overlong. It is sentimental without being too mawkish, which is a relief for a TV movie. With both main characters caricatured, I don’t think the roles really demand too much of either actor, but they are at least quite enjoyable to watch. The film only really excels in its showmanship, the staging, costumes and props that it deploys, including the makeup applied to Douglas, Damon and Lowe. I think it is worth a watch for the awkward laughter it provokes, even though it begins to drag towards the end.