“Behind The Candelabra”
Sunday night at 9 on HBO
Steven Soderbergh’s final film before his announced retirement is, surprisingly enough, not a theatrical release — although God knows, he wanted it to be.
The film, “Behind the Candelabra,” from the book of the same name by Scott Thorson, is about Thorson’s decade-long relationship with Liberace — the good, the bad and the extremely ugly.
It was Thorson who sued Liberace for palimony when he was thrown out with the trash after Lee took up with someone even younger when he was even older — nearing 70, as a matter of fact.
What is not portrayed in the movie is that “younger” in the horrible world of Liberace meant that Thorson was just 16 or 17 years old at the time he started.
In the movie version, Thorson — who is played brilliantly, if very sympathetically by Matt Damon and certainly is no teenager — doesn’t meet Liberace until he’s legal tender and working, yes, as a movie-set animal wrangler.
He might have been wrangling — but it weren’t with no horses, that’s for sure.
Thorson, who grew up in foster care, is brought to the dressing room of Liberace (Michael Douglas) by his friend and procurer, Bob Black, (Scott Bakula). “Lee” lusts after him and, a few hot tub and sex scenes later, tells Scott he should come work for him.
“As what?” asks Scott, and Liberace suggests that he could handles his animals. Not exactly wild horses, he’s talking about un-housebroken, yappy little dogs.
What’s right with this movie are the performances. When you are playing an out-there characters known for their voices (like Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin or Katie Holmes as Jackie O), it’s a fine line between satire and serious impersonation.
Douglas manages to take a real-life cartoon character and make him into a sometimes kind, often cruel, real person.
And when you’re playing someone who had a voice like ET, a toupee that looked like a live sheep and a wardrobe that made Lady Gaga’s look plain, it’s a tough thing to pull off.
But Douglas nails it like Liberace nailed Thorson.
Damon, who hasn’t been 16 in decades, is so good here that you believe him to be the likable, foster kid, not a savvy male hooker.
Rob Lowe is particularly funny and great as Dr. Jack Startz, Lee’s over-plastic plastic surgeon who, on Liberace’s orders, surgically alters Thorson’s face to look like Liberace’s.
Ditto the performances by Debbie Reynolds as Lee’s mother, Frances, and Dan Aykroyd as his manager, the horrible, Seymour Heller.
Yes, there are a few graphic sex scenes — but nothing we haven’t seen before on cable.
But really, who cares about the sex when you’ve got toupees the size of teepees and kitch that won’t quit?