Tuesday, May 28, 2013
I’m happy to say the answer is a resounding yes.
But if you are tuning in to see a freak show you will be disappointed. There have been numerous TV biopics about Liberace and they all came off like giant cheesefests. Campy, ridiculous, and boring after ten minutes. I think the difference here is that Michael and Matt commit totally to their roles. Never is there a wink. Never are they channeling Ru Paul.
Credit to director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese – they somehow produced a movie that feels grounded and real despite the most outrageous costumes, over-the-top characters, and settings that Caligula would find too ostentatious. It’s a stereotype mine field that they seem to hop scotch through without blowing themselves up.
Another delight awaits you too. Rob Lowe as the gay plastic surgeon almost steals the film. When this guy stars in something I’m never interested, but when he plays a small supporting role like in THANK YOU FOR SMOKING or this, he’s an absolute riot. I guess what I’m saying is I love Rob Lowe when he plays anything other than Rob Lowe. But I digress…
For those not really familiar with Liberace (a good test: if you think his name is pronounced Liber-ace you do not know who he is), here’s a thumbnail: Liberace (pronounced: Libber-ah-chee) was a flamboyant piano player who rose to fame in the ‘50s with a TV show. He always had a candelabra on his piano and wore flashy glam suits. He was Elton John for ‘50s housewives. He actually was an excellent musician, but first and foremost he was a showman. He sported fur jackets with thirty-foot trains. Try finding those at T.J. Max.
The movie makes reference to Liberace successfully suing a London tabloid for claiming he was gay. Either Liberace had the greatest attorney in legal history or the London jury was worse than the O.J. jury because no one on the planet Earth, including barnyard animals, believed he was straight. I was six and I knew he was gay… and I didn’t know what gay meant.
In the mid ‘70s he owned a mansion above the Sunset Strip. When he moved out to Las Vegas he decided to turn it into the Liberace Museum. Old ladies would gather at a spot on Sunset to be shuttled up there. At the time I worked across the street at the KiiS Broadcasting Workshop. One day the group KISS was at the station doing a promotion. Afterwards they decided to go to the museum. So standing in line with blue-haired old ladies was Gene Simmons and KISS in full costume. I wonder if Gene got in for free. Y’know, professional courtesy.
I’d be surprised if both Michael Douglas and Matt Damon don’t get Emmy nominations. Soderbergh will get one for sure because the Academy is in awe of any successful feature director. Hopefully LaGravenese will be recognized as well. To find the real person inside the aggrandized image he had to dig and dig and dig. And dig. Meanwhile, Rob Lowe is well on his way to becoming a gifted comic actor and Christopher Walken.
BEHIND THE CANDLEABRA is not for children, homophobes, or anyone who thinks Eric Stonestreet is too outlandish. But if you have an open mind or you never got to the Liberace Museum I recommend it. Gordon Gekko and Jason Bourne were never like this.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM