In real life Thorson was 16 years old when he met the 57 years old Liberace in 1976, but the film makes him out to be a little older. Probably in order not to gross out the audience as you could argue that Liberace was a paedophile who seduced boys who hadn't reached the age of consent, yet. The film is not about paedophilia, though, but about a showbiz relationship.
The young animal trainer Scott Thorson and his older boyfriend Bob Black goes to Las Vegas to see a Liberace show and meet the artist afterwards. Young Scott, who has been raised by foster parents, immediately falls for the much older man and although he is being warned, Scott refuses to see the dark sides of Liberace. Scott and Lee, as Liberace is called, are living the fast life, but to Scott it means having to say goodbye to his freedom, career and identity and hello to drugs, plastic surgery and financial dependency.
To be honest, Liberace has always seemed a bit ridiculous to me, but seeing the film, I fully understood why Scott fell in love with him. The film is very clever that way, very manipulating and intelligent. When Scott gets charmed, we get charmed. When Scott is being manipulated, we are being manipulated. And when Scott is hurt, we hurt. It's brilliantly directed and very witty too.
And then of course the cast is amazing. Michael Douglas IS Liberace. Full stop. Creepy, charming, vulnerable and manipulative. And Matt Damon is funny and youthful and naive as Scott Thorson. Both of them deliver strong, stunning and spirited performances and are believable as a gay couple.
Worth noticing are also Scott Bakula as Scott's ex-boyfriend Bob Black, Rob Lowe as the plastic surgeon (and drug dealer) Dr. Jack Startz, Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother Frances Liberace and Dan Aykroyd as his manager Seymour Heller. I must admit thought, that Dan Aykroyd was so well disguised and Debbie Reynolds had aged so much that I didn't recognise any of them, so I had to read the credits before I realised who they were!
To sum up: "Behind the Candalabra" is one of the best films I have seen this year. It's a must see, even if you have never heard about Liberace before! Four out of five stars: ****
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