Customer Reviews: Behind the Candelabra
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Even though I was quite young, I can still remember the infamous palimony suit filed by Scott Thorson against Liberace in 1982. The story created national headlines and scandal at a time when homosexuality wasn't discussed as openly as it might be today. Despite his flamboyant stage persona, Liberace was NOT out of the closet and did not acknowledge the intimacy of this relationship. That's part of what fueled the attention, further adding to the controversy and media scrutiny. I won't discuss the outcome for those new to Thorson's memoir "Behind The Candelabra," which is the source material for this prestigious HBO project. Academy Award winning director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) teamed with Oscar nominated screenwriter Richard La Gravenese (The Fisher King) to adapt Thorson's book. Headlined by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, "Behind the Candelabra" was certainly one of the most anticipated TV movies of the year. As you might expect, though, this is told from Thorson's perspective and is quite sympathetic to his viewpoint. Let's just say that we do not hear about his drug fueled involvement as a prime witness in the Wonderland murders (also in the early eighties) or his contemporary incarceration for suspected burglary and identity theft charges (he was recently bailed out of jail by the owner of Bunny Ranch brothel at the end of May). Even the movie's postscript just says that Thorson is currently residing in Reno when, in fact, he was in jail on the film's premiere.

That said, though, HBO's "Behind the Candelabra" is a handsomely produced and exquisitely acted piece of entertainment. By his very nature, Liberace was (and always will be) a fascinating and improbable success story. This expose peels back the curtain on a life of opulence, excess and eccentricity and is played as an extravagant tragedy: Boy meets legend, boy is seduced by wealth, boy is ruined by experience. Matt Damon plays Thorson with an eager optimism and an incredible naivete. A troubled kid shuttled through the foster system, Thorson is beguiled when introduced to Liberace. Liberace (Michael Douglas) is enchanted by this innocence and lack of pretension. A self-proclaimed bisexual, Thorson quickly shacks up with Liberace and the two have a blissful honeymoon period. But as the novelty wears off of the relationship, things get decidedly more weird. Thorson gets progressively more unstable by the explicit demands of the increasingly controlling Liberace. Their confused relationship wavers between the territories of lovers, employee and boss, father and son. I won't reveal any of the specific plot points, but this evolving dynamic fuels the heart of "Behind the Candelabra."

The exemplary cast includes Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mom, Scott Bakula as the guy who introduces our central pair, Dan Aykroyd as Liberace's protective manager, Rob Lowe as an extremely unorthodox doctor, and Cheyenne Jackson as a spurned lover. Each has nice moments. Reynolds doesn't have much to do, but scores in one pivotal scene. Aykroyd is particularly convincing and Lowe is inspired (and his makeup deserves an Emmy). But this is all really about Douglas and Damon. When I had heard that Douglas was cast, I didn't instantly see the connection. But he gets the mannerisms and speech patterns down well. Alternately hilarious and frightening, it's a completely unique performance that will undoubtedly be recognized as the award season rolls around. And Damon is also excellent as the emotional centerpiece of the story. His progression is well played and utterly believable.

I think that the technical merits of "Behind the Candelabra" also deserve special mention. The stage shows are recreated with precision. The make-up, costumes, and sets are all particularly noteworthy. The movie really does bring this experience to life from a visual perspective. And there is plenty of music as well, just what you'd want from a Liberace story! As with any biography, this isn't the definitive word on Liberace. It may, however, be as close as we're likely to get. Even to his death, Liberace was still not acknowledging a certain lifestyle. As the movie closes on an infamous Liberace performance, it is both chilling and sad. Whether you are a Liberace fan or not, this is a fascinating (if one-sided) look at the life of a one-of-a-kind entertainer. KGHarris, 6/13.
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The film is based on the autobiographical novel of the same name by Scott Thorson (with Alex Thorleifson) adapted for the screen by Richard LaGravenese about the tempestuous 6-year relationship between Liberace and his much younger lover Scott Thorson. This film along with SIDE EFFECTS are purported to be Steven Soderbergh's last films he will direct.

The cast is very solid. Matt Damon embodies the role of Scott Thorson well - a young apparently bisexual man who has been tossed from foster home to foster home while he does odd jobs (he is 17 years old) tending to animals. In a gay bar he meets Bob Black (Scott Bakula) who takes Scott to a Liberace concert (his first exposure to the megastar) and to meet Liberace afterwards. There is tension in the air with Liberace's current paramour and performing partner Billy Leatherwood (Cheyenne Jackson) and we soon discover that Liberace (impeccably played by Michael Douglas) only keeps his `boys' around for a while before his manager Seymour (Dan Ackroyd) gets rid of them with a check. Liberace and Scott find common ground in being needy people without confidants and soon Scott becomes Liberace's next lover. All goes swimmingly until Liberace sees himself on a TV show and sees how aged he has become. He engages plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz (Rob Lowe in a very fine performance) to perform a youthful facelift and at the same time convinces Scott to undergo plastic surgery to make him look more like Liberace! And here begins the downfall: Dr. Startz prescribes pain meds to Scott who becomes addicted and moves into heavier drugs, and his behavior, along with Liberace's need for a `new face' (Boyd Holbrook), signals the breakup of a 6 year relationship - the best relationship either has ever had.

There are excellent cameos by Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother, Paul Reiser as Scott's lawyer, and others, but the star of the film is in all ways the flamboyant showman Liberace in some of the most interesting outfits ever created. The on screen relationship between Michael Douglas and Matt Damon is entirely credible and neither of these fine actors has a problem with being sexually physical without seeming to be a parody. There are moments that could have been cut, but as Liberace says, less is more and more is wonderful. Grady Harp, May 13
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on July 8, 2013
"I want to be everything to you Scott. I want to be father, brother, lover, best friend." This is the true story of Scott Thorson (Damon) and his relationship with the one and only Liberace (Douglas). Scott was a normal easy going gay man with a dream to become a vet. That all changed when he met Liberace. The small town boy became a drug addicted, paranoid, and revenge obsessed man. I wasn't totally sure what to expect from this movie. I knew very little about the real Liberace and nothing about this story at all. The movie shows the rise and fall Scott and the extreme things he goes through for the man he loves. The story is pretty interesting but the real reason to watch is the performance of Michael Douglas. He is great in this and turns himself completely into the character that he makes you forget you are watching a famous actor like Michael Douglas. Overall, a pretty interesting bio-pic that I thought was pretty good but the performance by Douglas is great. I give it a B.
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on June 8, 2013
When I heard that Michael Douglas and Matt Damon were to carry the lead roles in this story, I was VERY dubious. They are both sensational actors but I'm just so used to Michael Douglas doing films where he gets into trouble with crazy women. Behind the Candelabra is quite a leap but he and Mr. Damon carry it off beautifully. I was simply astounded. The film seemed pretty close to real life from what I remember of Liberace and the music throughout just heightened this refreshing experience. I would rate this as one of the films of the year and would even say it it's one of the best performances by both lead gentlemen. The supporting cast was also great and all comes together to create a magnificent viewing experience. If you're turned off by a story of gay relationships, get over it and settle down to watch Behind the Candelabra. It's tastefully and artistically a masterpiece.
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on June 9, 2013
This is an intriguing and bizarre story of Liberace told through the eyes of his many-year companion Scott. I read an article about this prior to seeing it and wish I'd been more surprised by the unfolding events. This a the kind of story that is better to come into blind, without reading plot-spoiling articles or reviews. So if you are thinking about watching his film, do.

The A-team performances of Micheal Douglas as Liberace, Matt Damon as Scott, Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's controlling mother, and Rob Lowe as the vain, doctor (painfully over-done with plastic surgery) are flawless. Dan Ackroyd as Liberace's avaricious agent is excellent as well. The two main performances are riveting - Oscar performance worthy, though with the HBO distribution I guess this film will not be eligible for an Oscar. Douglas unwaveringly nails Liberace's voice and mannerism, and the film seamlessly intersperses footage of the real Liberace as a young man; Damon once again shows his incredible range as an actor playing the polar opposite of the tough guy, bad boy, heart throb role. The makeup in this movie is simply amazing. Micheal Douglas is transformed into the spitting image of Liberace and various characters age, gain and lose mass, and go through other appearance-changing life issues.

Scott is a naive and talent animal trainer and aspiring vet who meets Liberace through a friend and starts to treat Liberace's poodle. As a child, Scott had been through many families in the foster system and as a young man is seeking a acceptance, love, and a father figure. He quickly becomes drawn into Liberace's flamboyant public life and bizarre private life; after the elderly poodle dies Scott even takes on the dog's nickname. A great film that I'd love to see released on the big screen.
PS - I have to disagree with some of the other reviewers on one point: Matt Damon was well cast given the age range of his character throughout the movie.
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on August 1, 2015
Lot of heavyweights involved here: Steven Soderbergh directing, Richard LaGravenese writing, Marvin Hamlisch supervising the music, Michael Douglas and Matt Damon in the lead roles. It was the highest-rated HBO movie in a decade, doubtless because of the subject matter and the high wattage of the stars, which also leads me to note rather sourly that a movie about gay men still has trouble securing an actual theatrical release, no matter the wattage.

I'll also note that I wish the movie had been about something interesting. Oh perhaps it will be interesting for some. Do I really need to preface this with a spoiler alert? -- wealthy celebrity takes in orphan, orphan is seduced by wealth, orphan gets plastic surgery, orphan develops bad habits like coke-sniffing, orphan falls from grace and from the favor of his keeper. And there's your movie. Out of all the stories to tell about Liberace, I can't imagine a more cliched one. Worse, there is ample evidence from the script that Scott Thorson (Damon), who wrote the memoir on which the movie is based, is simply serving himself rather than the truth (deathbed visit? -- nice touch, straight out of daytime TV). The babe-in-the-woods act is to be doubted. During his time as Liberace's lover in the late Seventies and early Eighties, Thorson used to party at the home of Eddie Nash, one of L.A.'s most notorious drug dealers. The movie, which positions itself from Thorson's POV, depicts Liberace as the more depraved of the two -- Thorson looks on in horror as Liberace watches porn -- but I doubt the old man taught the young hustler anything. You don't get to live in the home of a millionaire by being a nice kid. Such a gig requires skills which are usually learned on the streets or in the alleys behind bars.

Well, anyway, we do get some glimpses of one of America's most famous libertines in his twilight years. There was a time in this country when a prodigiously talented piano player could become a major entertainer and celebrity. One could also fool one's fans, mostly innocent housewives, about one's sexual orientation, despite the (to us, now) hilarious evidence to the contrary. That time no longer exists, and it was basically fading for Liberace as our story opens in 1977. At this point in his career, Liberace was mostly concerned with burnishing the legend and achieving two gigs that had escaped him in his prime: the Oscars and Radio City Music Hall. (He achieved both.) We learn that he never played piano for pleasure or practice. We learn that he was burdened with insatiable sexual appetites even as his natural equipment long ago fell victim to middle-aged lassitude, which means we learn that he had penile implants. We learn that he didn't care for his mother (an unrecognizable Debbie Reynolds) all that much. We learn that he was driven mainly by his own vainglory. All of which means: we learn very little that we didn't already know. (Except about the penile implants, of course -- yecch.) Liberace's unofficial motto was: "Too much of a good thing is WONDERFUL." Except that it isn't: the man died in agony at the relatively young age of 67 from AIDS-related pneumonia.

Michael Douglas does a great job as a sort of male version of Norma Desmond: he doesn't really seem like Liberace, at least as I remember the man, but then Liberace was too unique to simply imitate. Matt Damon is also very strong as the young lover/son-figure/employee, despite the self-serving fraudulence of the character as written. Both men undergo gradual changes in appearance: Douglas starts the film looking pretty old, but makeup does a splendid job imitating a drastic face-lift. Damon's changes are super-creepy: the prosthetics team give him a different nose and somehow make his chin narrower, imitating the effects of surgery. In some shots he no longer looks like Matt Damon. It should be said that both actors are about 15 years too old for their roles (Liberace is only 57 when the movie starts).

3 out of 5, for the performances and the mindboggling sets of Liberace's opulent home. It would have been more useful, however, if they had focused on the palimony suit: now that gay marriage is federally mandated throughout our fair land, the depiction of domestic disputes over personal property would have prepared gay Americans for the inevitable concomitant to the new mandate: Gay Divorce.
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on June 27, 2013
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA looks at the man behind the myth of Liberace - entertainer, pianist extraordinaire and promiscuous homosexual. Michael Douglas is just wonderful in the role; he has the voice intonations absolutely right, as well as the body-language. His Liberace is so in love with his self-created myth that he cannot see beyond it; to say that he is massively self-centered is no understatement. At the same time Douglas portrays him as vulnerable; however much of a star he might have been, he needed young men to lean on as well as to take to bed. Matt Damon is equally wonderful as Liberace's much younger lover Scott Thorson; at first rather bemused that the celebrity should take such an interest in him, and then falling hopelessly and yet eternally in love. Steven Soderbergh's film begins quite humorously, with Douglas and Damon indulging in an elaborate courtship; but the tone soon changes as the film examines the lives of the ill-matched yet inseparable couple. The material is sympathetically yet cleverly handled, producing a compelling piece of work.
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on June 7, 2013
I should start off by saying that I typically do not write movie reviews, so I hope what I write here is helpful.

I wasn't sure about this movie at first based off of the previews, but after watching it I completely fell in love with it. It was sweet, emotional, upsetting and beautiful. Matt Damon and Michael Douglas were incredible as were all of the supporting actors! I found myself a little heartbroken by the end of the movie and could not help but crying, but I still watched it again and plan to watch it again in the future. If you are putt off by man-on-man action, just know that there is VERY LITTLE in this movie! I know that's a big deal to some people, so I thought it was worth noting. This is truly a must see and I love it!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 20, 2013
Michael Douglas does ("Lee") Liberace in this made-for-TV movie about his relationship with his hapless companion, Scott Thorson, played by Matt Damon. We get to ogle the lavish lifestyle of an icon who was "out" in plain sight, his wardrobe, his candelabra, and his baroque furnishings.

Although the wigs helped Mike Douglas' depiction, I was more impressed by his take on that distinctive voice. And we couldn't help but feel sorry for his houseboy as Liberace played Svengali, subjecting his current heartthrob to diets, pills, jewelry and plastic surgery.

Rob Lowe does a great job as the doctor who lures our naive young chap into the prescription drug scene.

Although Scott Bakula seems to be listed as one of the players in IMDb, I saw no evidence of Mr. B. in the story. One of you explained that I had been watching Mr. Bakula but was completely fooled by his mustache and his performance. Wow!

I bought my DVD from Amazon.
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VINE VOICEon September 18, 2013
The movie opens in 1977 as Liberace (Michael Douglas) is starring in Las Vegas and seventeen year old Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) has just become his latest boy-toy. They carry on a passionate affair for five years before Lee's eye begins to wander again.

This is not a biography of Liberace, but rather the story of Lee and Scott's affair. The two stars are very good, although Douglas' Liberace wasn't quite as likable as I'd wished. The two make a dynamic duo and really hold one's attention. Rob Lowe has a funny role as a plastic surgeon with one too-many bad eye jobs. Debbie Reynolds has a few lines as Lee's mother. The sets and costumes are lavish and the whole movie glitters with a Vegas aura.

The movie is based on Scott Thorson's memoir, so, naturally, he comes out as the hero and victim while Liberace is the slimy predator. Much of the graphic storyline had me cringing in shock, but, still, I watched. I was a big fan of Liberace's old TV show and this film doesn't change that, but it did sadden me a bit.
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