Candelabra Counts

Of all the major directors of the past 20 years, Steven Soderbergh has always seemed the least emotional. His movies certainly never take a bath in the stuff. So it doesn’t sound like much to call Behind The Candelabra (HBO, 5.26) his most emotional and touching work. But I don’t mean it lightly. This HBO movie (which will play theatrically in Europe) truly touches bottom and strikes a chord. It’s a sad (but not glum or downish), movingly performed drama about a kind of marriage that begins well and then goes south after five years. Richard LaGravanese‘s script is complex, fleshed-out and recognizably human at every turn, and performed with considerable feeling and vulnerability by Michael Douglas (easily the top contender right now for a Best Actor prize) and Matt Damon.

Behind The Candelabra star Michael Douglas during this morning’s Cannes Film Festival press conference.

The flavor and the hook, of course, is that the “marriage” is a kind of father-son, rich-poor, sexual predator-young kid thing between the 50ish Liberace (Douglas) and the much younger Scott Thorson (Damon). Like all relationships it begins well and then turns bizarre with plastic surgery detours and then goes sharply south due to Thorson’s self-esteem issues and drug addiction and, at the very end, ultra-frosty vibes from Liberace and his staff, and then a lawsuit. But it ends compassionately, tenderly.

The five years that Liberace and Scott Thorson had together were like any other passionate coupling, subject to the same ups and downs. Okay, not subject to the enormously flamboyant lifestyle that was Liberace’s daily bread and butter, but otherwise it’s just another love affair that flourishes for a time and then runs its course.

Douglas really moved me. He’s not “doing” Liberace as much as playing a European man of many varied influences and tastes and attitudes — a fully realized fellow funnelled through a skilled inhabiting of a highly colorful performer. He’ll probably win the Cannes Film Festival’s Best Actor award, or at the very least is a hot contender. Things didn’t look good for Douglas during his cancer scare, as we all know, and then Candelabra happened and he’s now got a performance under his belt that he can be genuinely proud of the rest of his days. Douglas choked up a bit when he talked about this during the press conference. I felt what he was feeling, and good for him.

I have to cut out. Claire DenisLes Salauds (Bastards) starts in 25 minutes.

Matt Damon during press conference.

Steven Soderbergh.

  • filmsof dust

    You need to get over it Jeff, you don’t write a column anymore. You tweet and write blog posts. Welcome to the 21st Century. Be thankful you still get ad payments for it.

  • filmsof dust

    Also, Behind the Candelabra is terrible and you really should stop holding water for Soderbergh.

    • moosenuts99

      Great criticism! Some real Manny Farber-level shit there. Almost makes it seem like you watched the film. Almost.

  • Perfect Tommy

    Nice review, but last year’s rave for “Haywire” makes me take it with a shaker of salt.

    • “Haywire” is beautiful.

      • Deliox

        No, it’s okay. Traffic is beautiful.

      • Mechanical Shark

        At the very least, Gina Carano is, and that’s enough.

    • MovieSquad

      Pretty sure Wells has never met a Soderbergh movie he didn’t rave about.

    • moosenuts99

      Yes. Because Haywaire and Candlelabra look exactly the same and the same as Soderbergh’s last three films.

      Good comment!!

      • Perfect Tommy

        My comment isn’t about Soderbergh’s films (many of which I love), but Wells’ reviews of SS’s films. Hope he is right about this one.

    • Vinci_Smetana

      In Contention headline says “Brilliant ‘Behind the Candelabra’ deserves biggest screen possible”

  • Correcting Jeff

    “He’s not “doing” Liberace as much as playing a European man of many varied influences and tastes and attitudes — a fully realized fellow funnelled through a skilled inhabiting of a highly colorful performer.”

    Liberace was American, a Cheesehead.

    • George Prager

      Yes, (according to the imdb) a first generation American (yes Wisconsin) , born Wladziu Valentino Liberace, who grew up in the 20s and 30s, debuted as a solist with the Chicago Symphony at age 14, whose father was a French Horn player for the MIlwaukee Symphony.
      I’ll bet he raced a lot of hot rods in his youth!

  • jeffreyoverstreet

    Can’t wait to see the blu-ray cover, with the all-caps blurb across the top: “TRULY TOUCHES BOTTOM!” – HOLLYWOOD ELSEWHERE

  • Eloi Wrath

    Surprised Wells didn’t lob a couple of insults towards Damon’s Hanes undershirt and Old Navy top next to the suited-up Soderbergh/Douglas.

  • Going to have to watch this at someone’s house with HBO. Glad to see Douglas doing good work again.

  • chien_clean

    My aunt:”Michael Douglas is playing Liberace? Oh I loved Liberace so much!”. After a few clips:”He’s gonna do gay stuff?”. Me:”well yea, Liberace was gay, they’re doing his life story”. Her:”ohhh”. Disapointed that Michael Douglas would do that. So I had to say:”it’s just pretend kisses, you know, Michael won’t actually do it”.

    I love her anyway. 😉