Saturday, June 1, 2013

What Else Can I Say? Everyone Is Gay

Behind the Candelabra is a kitschy/kinky title for a movie that doesn't really tolerate kitschiness (it exonerates it), and while the Steven-Soderbergh-directed opus does dance lovingly around kink it is more a homage to the mundane pleasures nestled within an opulent cluster of feelings and possessions than a salacious bio-pic.  It's a Faberge-egg tribute, with a plot driven by a tried and true Lifetime movie arc:  rich old man takes on a young lover and then gets tired of that lover and moves on and then on his deathbed confesses his love.  Michael Douglas portrays Lee with an offhand sweetness and assurance that does not mock the great showman's mannerisms but somehow ennobles them, giving us a Liberace that lives and breathes and can say shit like "I just love to shop," without assigning him to a one-note stereotype.  It is very clear in this movie that Liberace assigned himself to whatever type he felt comfortable being, and this type comes off as a piss-elegant meditation on luxury and perseverance:  he was the hardest working queen in show business.  That "hardest-working" part seems to have fueled his appetites for a lot of things, including sex and palaces and hot-tubs and diamond rings.  Matt Damon plays Scott Thorson, Lee's conquest at the beginning of the flick, with a sort of understated angst and joy that seems to have been borrowed from Mark Wahlberg's performance in Boogie Nights; in fact his Thorson is a tribute to that movie's deadpan kindness and innocent depravity.  Damon ages from 18 to late 20s in the movie, and that process is so believable it's kind of magical, transporting you past the transgression inherent in Liberace's seduction of Thorson and more into the realm of how relationships work.  All the way through Candelabra you're hypnotized by a sort of longing to go back to those days when Liberace could seduce both old ladies in Las Vegas auditoriums and young men with long blonde hair and sweey glassy eyes, without anybody wanting to notice or care.  Sonderbergh has built a visual villanelle of a movie, overly mannered and lyrical, and also completely free of cynicism.  By the end, when Thorson envisions Lee's funeral as his final and gorgeous curtain call, you realize how much judgment people apply to pop-culture and how hard it truly is to actually see things as they really are.