Burning the Candle at Both Ends

Even when I subscribed to a cable package, I've never had the funds to pick up HBO. That's usually fine, because I've found that HBO shows are often best enjoyed after the season has been released on DVD so I can shotgun it. Sometimes, though, a property will sound so intriguing that I make an effort to seek it out. Say, for example, a Steven Soderbergh movie about Liberace that was deemed "too gay" for theatrical release, and that stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon?

Some friends and I decided to meet in an HBO household and make an evening of it: Play with a new puppy, eat some amazing local pizza, and delve into the camp and drama of Behind the Candelabra. Now that's a recipe for a successful Monday! I've never had much exposure to Liberace. I know who he was, of course, but my knowledge was limited to:

1) Played piano
2) Flamboyant
3) Gay (and somehow fooled the public into thinking he wasn't)
4) Died of AIDS

That's it. So I was depending on Behind the Candelabra not just to entertain, but to fill in some informational gaps for me. The movie was adapted from the memoir of Scott Thorson (Liberace's lover, portrayed by Matt Damon in the film), and is utterly fascinating. Liberace is perfect for the biopic treatment, blending massive amounts of talent, money, ego, and pathos. At times, he could be kind of a monster, always chasing the young and beautiful, to the point that he cajoles Thorson into getting plastic surgery. But for those who basked in his love and attention, his generosity was bottomless.

Though there are some parts of the movie that drag a bit, the acting is stellar from beginning to end. It actually took me a while to process that I was watching Michael Douglas - he really commits to this role. And special mention has to be made of Rob Lowe as the skeezy plastic surgeon. In three or four short scenes, he almost steals the entire thing. Even if you don't wind up seeing the movie, do yourself a favor and look up some of the Rob Lowe GIFs.

Ultimately, I'm glad this was released on television instead of theaters. It really benefited from watching in a group setting; being able to discuss it in real time and rewinding so that we could watch must-see moments again made it more enjoyable than I feel like it would have been in a dark room at the Tivoli. I now know a lot more about a cultural touchstone, enjoyed a vastly entertaining movie, and had a terrifically fun movie night with friends. What more can I ask?

Behind the Candelabra: B+


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