When done right, a biopic can be a fascinating style of movie.
But the subject has to be an interesting one and the plot has to be able to hold your attention.
If the story focuses on the wrong parts of the case study’s life, then it can all go wrong.
Take the two Hitchcock biopics as an example. The one on the BBC provided genuine insight into his relationships with Tippi Hedren and his wife, and also the making of The Birds. It was good.
The cinematic effort with Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, barely scratched the surface on the making of Psycho, and was more about his wife than him. That wasn’t good.
So it’s with an ounce of trepidation that I go to see the latest biopic to hit the big screen, Behind The Candelabra.
Behind The Candelabra Review: What’s It About?
Behind The Candelabra Review: Who’s In It?
This Stephen Soderbergh movie stars Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Thorson. Other actors include Rob Lowe as Liberace’s plastic surgeon, Scott Bakula as their mutual friend Bob Black and – and I didn’t actually realise it was him until I just looked up the cast on Wikipedia – Dan Aykroyd as Liberace’s manager.
Behind The Candelabra Review: How Highly Is It Rated?
Although this movie was denied a cinematic release in the USA because of it’s “controversial” nature (it aired on HBO instead), it gets ratings of 7.1/10 from under 6,000 votes on Imdb, a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a Metacritic score of 8.2/10
The first and most obvious thing to say is how brilliant Michael Douglas is as Liberace. Although if you watch any videos of the real man himself, you’ll think Douglas is maybe a little bit more effete in his voice, it’s still an amazing impersonation.
He’s got the look and the mannerisms down to a tee.
It’s actually a bit creepy how different to Michael Douglas he becomes.
And if you check out YouTube and find videos of stuff like Liberace’s Boogy Woogy or his 1981 Las Vegas entrance, all of this is so faithfully done in the film.
So I’ve got absolutely no problems with the way the subject is presented.
To me though, the problem is that the focus is too much upon the relationship between Liberace and Thorson.
Now obviously, before anyone points out the obvious and says that that’s what the movie is about, I understand that, but I feel it becomes a missed opportunity.
For example, they briefly touch upon a part of his life where he ended up almost killing himself through renal failure in the 60s because he inhaled the fumes given out by his newly dry-cleaned outfits. Later on, they devote a mere couple of minutes to his death and what appears to be an interesting story regarding a cover-up of his AIDS that a coroner’s office exposed.
That sort of thing – as well as his lifelong denial of homosexuality which bafflingly seemed to work – is the sort of thing I would have preferred to see ahead of numerous scenes where Douglas and Damon have arguments about their relationship. Finding out about the guy’s life is what a biopic should be about, rather than just another relationship movie.
If anything, it turned into a biopic of Thorson, and who really cares about that? Sure, it was interesting to see that Liberace demanded he have plastic surgery to make Thorson look more like him, but it wasn’t interesting watching a half-hearted attempt at a storyline on his drug abuse.
As an aside, I should say that it’s a bit silly that this movie was denied a US cinema release because the studios were afraid of the kissing and sex scenes between Douglas & Damon offending people. Then again, I read today that the BBC received 139 complaints because Holly Willoughby wore a dress with too plunging a neck line on The Voice. So everything offends someone, and I get the feeling that the homosexual nature of this movie will offend a certain cross-section of American society more than a plunging neckline would.
My advice? If you can’t cope, don’t go. But shut up about it.
Behind the Candelabra Review: Final Thoughts
So on the whole, while it was well acted (beyond the main two characters, Rob Lowe is scary as the plastic surgeon) and it looked fantastic, I felt it was a missed opportunity to make an interesting story out of Liberace’s life.
Even at 90 minutes, interesting parts were few and far between, and once you got over how scarily effective Douglas was at acting the part, there just wasn’t much left to enjoy.