Behind the Candelabra (2013, Steven Soderbergh)

Matt Damon is Scott, who gets introduced to Liberace (Lee to his friends) by laid-back mustache dude Scott Bakula in the late 1970’s, beginning an affair/family/employee situation that lasts until Lee (Michael Douglas) finally kicks out Scott in favor of a new, younger, less-drug-addicted, less-contentious boy. It comes full circle from when Scott replaced gloomy pretty-boy Cheyenne Jackson (Danny, the new cast member on 30 Rock) at Lee’s house. Liberace dies of AIDS, but Scott is cut out of the will, Lee’s verbal promises not carrying any legal weight, so Scott writes a tell-all memoir.

Performances are great, storytelling is effective, costumes and period details are spot-on, but it can’t break out of the “bio-pic based on tell-all memoir” genre. A squinty Rob Lowe is the highlight as a plastic surgeon who makes Douglas look younger and Damon look weirder with shiny cheeks. Dan Aykroyd plays Lee’s manager and Debbie Reynolds (Tammy and the Bachelor, Susan Slept Here) his mother. Adapted from Scott’s book by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King).

A. Cook: “I don’t know if any other American filmmaker is more inventive right now with choosing where to place the camera, how to frame the image, how to use focus, etc.” I get what he’s saying – in this and Haywire and Contagion I notice unusual editing and shot choices – but the movies’ standard Hollywood storytelling and starpower get in the way. If I was dedicated enough, I might rewatch Haywire paying attention only to its framing and technical qualities, but maybe instead Soderbergh needs more interesting scripts to go with his artistic filmmaking intentions – The Informant being a good example.

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