Screens » Screens Etc.

'Behind the Candelabra' portrays Liberace as a monster

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COURTESY PHOTO
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Behind the Calendabra (8pm Sun, HBO)

Behind the Candelabra assembles high-quality artists to tell the story of a low-quality one: the glitzy piano player Liberace. Steven Soderbergh directs, Michael Douglas camps it up as the inexplicably popular musician, and Matt Damon throws himself into the role of Scott, Liberace’s boy toy from the 1970s and ’80s.

The title promises to take us behind Liberace’s pose as a narcissistic, flamboyant heterosexual. What we find is a narcissistic, flamboyant homosexual, unappealing in every way. He uses people; he lies; he whines about his problems. His relationship with Scott follows a predictable arc from debauchery to disenchantment, with copious amounts of pills and plastic surgery along the way. The movie satisfies our voyeuristic curiosity, but there’s not much more to it than that.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy every second of Behind the Candelabra. It’s not often you get to see Douglas and Damon having hot sex with each other. Or Rob Lowe pushing drugs in a stunning 1970s coiffure. The movie delights in bad behavior, bad clothes and bad music. Like Liberace himself, it manages to hold your attention.

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