It’s a wonderful coincidence to have Behind The Candelabra come out two days after the Creative Arts Emmys, as the wins it racked up on Sunday night highlight its strengths. To name a few:
Outstanding Makeup For A Miniseries Or A Movie (Non-Prosthetic)
Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup For A Series, Miniseries, Movie Or A Special
A huge achievement at the beginning of this movie is 42-year-old Matt Damon playing a very convincing 18-year-old Scott Thorson. While his performance is impressive, the fact that he looks like as young as he does is a tribute to the magic of the makeup department.
Also of note is Rob Lowe’s appearance as Liberace’s plastic surgeon. The makeup department did a fantastic job taking the natural look of Lowe and warping it into a surgeon obsessed with looking younger, even if he has the puffy stiffness of a modern-day Kenny Rogers.
Speaking of surgery, the prosthetics work done in this movie were fantastic. Candelabra dealt with both Liberace’s need to look younger, and his need for Thorson to look like a younger Liberace. I’m one of those people who hates the sight of blood. Most films I can sit through fine, even if someone loses a limb and blood is spurting everywhere. But God help me if there’s a surgery scene. Especially one that’s as realistic as the implant work done on both Michael Douglas and Damon.
Outstanding Hairstyling For A Miniseries Or A Movie
We’ll keep this one brisk and centered on Douglas as Liberace. The wig work done on him to give him the public stage look of the musician was fantastic, but even more striking was his first shot without the wig.
Until that point, Liberace had appeared full of life, energy and showmanship. Then there is Douglas standing there with a towel, a massive bald spot and long, stringy hair down the sides. The startling difference between the two was a fantastically handled reveal.
Outstanding Costumes For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special
The behind-the-scenes featurette that comes on the DVD, The Making of Behind The Candelabra details what should be plainly obvious—many of the costumes and outfits that Douglas wears as Liberace weren’t off-the-shelf. The many eccentricities, including a 15-foot fur train, had to be custom-made (while the original was real fur, this one is faux fur). The rhinestone magic of Liberace’s ensemble, and Damon’s … eccentric chauffeur outfit were reproduced spectacularly.
As wonderful as the technical elements of this movie were, it would have just been a glittery showcase without the chemistry between Douglas and Damon.
Candelabra is based on Scott Thorson’s tell-all memoir Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace. It details the relationship the two had throughout the last decade of the piano virtuoso’s life, with a heavy focus between when they met in 1977 and their falling out a few years later.
Douglas does a fantastic job of handling the complexities of Liberace as presented by Thorson. There’s the courtship at the start when he lures a star-struck teen (one of a handful he’s done this with we’re led to believe), then the satisfaction of the honeymoon period with Thorson, then the combination of a desire for a younger Thorson, and eventually a wandering eye elsewhere.
Throughout, Douglas handled the intricacies and intimacy of Liberace very well. He was both a showman who loved to delight crowds at his shows and a recluse who was afraid to go out, lest someone force him to come out, which would have likely crippled his career. The dalliances with men like Thorson were his chance to enjoy himself.
In particular, I enjoyed the giddiness he showed with having the younger Thorson by his side, even if it did veer toward the edge of creepy obsession (His “Good morning, Scott,” when Thorson wakes up is both adorable and a little terrifying. I’m looking forward to the horror movie trailer re-cut of this movie).
If you watch the making-of feature, you’ll notice there is seldom a moment when Douglas isn’t smiling. The sheer joy he has working with Matt Damon reflects very well in the chemistry between the two.
Speaking of Damon, he played off the transformation of a small-town boy with no parents and dreams of becoming a vet to Liberace’s boy toy lost in the world of money, drugs and surgery quite well. The scenes with him facing down the possibility of going under the knife to become Liberace’s doppelganger are especially powerful as Damon conveys Thorson’s fear of not seeing himself in the mirror anymore.
Last Sunday night’s awards were just the beginning for this movie. Though the special features begin and end with the one featurette, I’d strongly recommend heading out and getting this. That is, if you don’t have HBO Go. As is the case with most HBO releases, if you can get it online with your cable subscription, there isn’t much of a point in picking up the DVD.