Behind the Candelabra (USA, 2013)

MV5BMTg0OTY2OTM0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTk4OTQ1OQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. And so ends the illustrious filmmaking career of Steven Soderbergh. Maybe I’ll save my Soderbergh spiel for another post, but I feel a personal affinity with him for some reason. He was one of the first contemporary filmmakers I made myself consciously aware of, after repeated viewings of my Out of Sight VHS, and a brief fascination with the Ocean’s 11 remake, and his strange and varied filmography since then. In short, there was no way I wasn’t going to watch this (although I was cautioned by a coworker that this is “So graphic!”, it turns out that my 13-year-old viewing of Pulp Fiction has successfully desensitized me, and this movie was about as graphic as Mary Poppins by  comparison). I saw this as someone who knew nothing about Liberace and didn’t particularly care to find out, and someone who isn’t particularly big on either Michael Douglas or Matt Damon. I generally appreciate both of them, and they’ve both done great things in the past (as well as not-great things). Focusing only on this movie, I have to say that I feel overall favourably towards it. This was a truly original and engaging and entertaining film. This is one of those movies, somewhat similar in feel to Boogie Nights, where none of the characters (focused to two leads here, but still) fit the bill of being a traditional “protagonist”. None of them really fit that traditional Hollywood “identification” process—both Liberace and Scott are likeable and everything, but they’re both way more flawed and strange than the majority of mainstream Hollywood lead characters. And this maybe says a lot about Soderbergh, the image of him as a maverick, as not a real “Hollywood” Hollywood guy, as a Hollywood guy who eventually got so fed up with Hollywood that he left Hollywood and when he left, the last thing he did was a nonconventional love story about two homosexuals living a particularly gaudy and decadent show business lifestyle. There’s a whole conversation to be had about that aspect of this movie. If I have any gripes about this movie, it’s that I think I might detect, from my admittedly hetero but liberal/university-educated eyes, a certain circus sideshow sensibility through which the film is viewing these two individuals. It’s as if the film is saying: “Look at these two weirdos! What a couple of weird gay guys having gay sex and doing blow and getting plastic surgery, and did I mention the gay sex? Weirrrrrrrrrrd!” And to be fair, it’s Liberace we’re talking about—his life was apparently very much like a gaudy circus sideshow. He did, in fact, pay for his boyfriend to look like himself. But the narrative distance this film keeps from its two leads sometimes feels like some kind of judgement. Ultimately, we’re looking at two very flawed human beings, both of them pretty deplorable in their way, but especially Liberace, who mostly comes off as an impulsive, neurotic, vain old horn dog, who drives his lover insane with his increasingly crazy demands, and eventually kicks him out of his life. And yet, the film somehow still aspires to be a celebration of the man’s life. Like I said, a truly original and bizarre film. Or maybe it isn’t ultimately all that original, but it’s definitely bizarre, it’s definitely a showcase for Michael Douglas (and maybe probably a piece of Oscar bait) and Matt Damon, and a fitting end for Soderbergh’s varying, puzzling, and always surprising filmography.

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One response to “Behind the Candelabra (USA, 2013)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2014 | Offhand Reviews·

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