The Liberace docudrama “Behind the Candelabra” (which premiered on HBO on May 26, 2013) has been getting mostly positive reviews from critics. There is also talk that “Behind the Candelabra” will get nominated for Emmy Awards, Golden Globe Awards and Screen Actors Guild Awards, including nominations for Michael Douglas (who stars as Liberace), Matt Damon (who stars as Liberace’s lover/employee Scott Thorson) and director Steven Soderbergh.
HBO subscribers can watch “Behind the Candelabra” on demand for a limited time (as of May 27, 2013) on HBO on Demand (for television) and HBO Go (for computers and mobile devices). Scheduled repeats are on HBO for a limited time period. Outside the U.S., “Behind the Candelabra” will be released in cinemas. Release dates vary by country. The movie’s DVD/Blu-ray release date is to be announced.
“Behind the Candelabra” had its world premiere at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival on May 21. The movie was in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, but didn’t win any prizes at the festival.
However, based on the rave reviews and pundits’ predictions, expect “Behind the Candelabra” to get nominated for major awards that have categories for TV-movies.
Damon and Soderbergh have worked together on several other movies, but “Behind the Candelabra” is their first TV-movie together. They previously worked together on “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Ocean’s Twelve,” “Ocean’s Thirteen,” “The Informant!” and “Contagion.” Douglas and Soderbergh previously worked together on “Traffic.”
May 28, 2013 update: “Behind the Candelabra was a ratings smash for HBO. According to Deadline: “Helmed by the Oscar-winning director, ‘Behind the Candelabra’ was watched by 2.4 million viewers on Sunday at 9 p.m. That’s the most viewers an HBO original movie premiere has garnered since 2.6 million watched ‘Something the Lord Made’ on May 30, 2004. ‘Candelabra’ also did considerably better than HBO’s last biopic, on record producer Phil Spector. Starring Al Pacino and Helen Mirren, the film about Spector’s first trial for the 2003 death of actress Lana Clarkson pulled in 754,000 viewers in its 9 p.m. airing on March 24. Overall, ‘Phil Spector’ had 1.039 million viewers over two plays on March 24. Across two plays Sunday, Candelabra had a total of 3.5 million viewers watching the 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. broadcasts.”
July 24, 2013 update: “Behind the Candelabra” has scored 15 Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Miniseries or Movie. Douglas and Damon are each nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. Scott Bakula is nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, for his performance as Thorson’s friend Bob Black. Soderbergh is nominated for Best Direction for a Miniseries or Movie.
Here is a sampling of critics’ reviews of “Behind the Candelabra”:
“Michael Douglas is a 68-year-old movie star known for he-man performances and morally ambiguous roles. And he was no piano player. But Douglas now dazzles as Liberace in the new HBO film ‘Behind the Candelabra,’ including lavish musical numbers in which he tinkles the ivories and flourishes his jewel-and-ermine finery … Douglas’ co-star is Matt Damon, who, in a casting choice almost as counterintuitive, plays Scott Thorson, a dreamy, strapping teen who in 1977 met Liberace in his Vegas dressing room and almost instantly became his personal assistant, live-in companion and top-secret lover … It was the film’s director, Steven Soderbergh, who brought together the two lead actors, helped shape their splendid performances and masterminded this portrait of a loving but bizarre and tempestuous affair. This showbiz saga may be over the top, but there’s plenty of depth and it dives deep.”
“The man deserved a sensational, Sunset Boulevard-style tribute; what he got plays more like a Lifetime movie. To be clear, there’s still just enough camp gold to get the best lines bedazzled on a leotard … But Douglas’ performance is surprisingly restrained, especially given that he’s playing a man who lived in fear every day that his double life would be exposed. The more secretive parts of Liberace’s world, like his obsession with sex clubs and porn, come across as quirky rather than dark. And Damon, who captures Thorson’s damaged-child side well, makes him a little too sympathetic. (After all, this is a guy who’s now in jail for burglary.)” (Grade: B-)
“The film is mesmeric, riskily incorrect, outrageously watchable and simply outrageous. Unlike ITV’s ‘Vicious,’ which stars two famously gay actors, ‘Behind the Candelabra’ does not offer any extra-textual liberal assurances in its casting. Michael Douglas is very funny as the great man himself, a primped and toupéed peacock of the ivories whose undoubted technical genius at the keyboard means he does not need to rehearse, and whose excess energy and artistry is channelled into chasing after young men … As a black comedy, and as a portrait of celebrity loneliness, ‘Behind the Candelabra’ is very stylish and effective, and Damon and Douglas give supremely entertaining performances.” (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)
“Despite the earnest PR spin surrounding it, ‘Behind the Candelabra’ invites us to laugh at -— not always with — the grinning, gaudy Vegas spectacle that is Liberace. But Michael Douglas’s performance is also deep, sympathetic and brilliant, an act of impeccable mimicry that reveals the essence of a man defined by his fame as surely as he is encased in his spangled tux. The wonder of Steven Soderbergh’s hugely entertaining film is that it beautifully walks the line between hilarious kitsch and character study.”
Los Angeles Times
“Based on Thorson’s tell-all memoir, it paints such a narrow portrait of the man who was for a time the most famous entertainer in the world that it comes dangerously close to realizing Liberace’s greatest fear — that he would be remembered simply as ‘a crazy old queen.’ Although not quite the high-wire act of depicting Liberace, Damon does a remarkable job with Scott. He deftly captures the quicksilver shifts in motive and desire that underlie any relationship and evokes a drug-fueled breakdown in all its jaw-clenching horror. ‘Behind the Candelabra’ is not the story of Liberace’s life. Soderbergh is clearly captivated, as are we all, by the rot underlying the glitz, but even with Douglas’ nuanced performance, the film simplifies too many things.”
New York Times
“There’s something uncanny, even brilliant, about Michael Douglas’s impersonation of Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s biographical film ‘Behind the Candelabra.’ Sashaying across Las Vegas stages and epic suburban living rooms with a drum major’s puffed-up grandeur and a lounge lizard’s predatory smile, Mr. Douglas gives a performance so assured, so free of camp or cringe, that you quickly surrender any doubts you might have had about his playing a famously flamboyant, closeted-in-plain-sight gay entertainer … Everything comes back to Mr. Douglas and Mr. Damon, however. And while Mr. Douglas glides through the film — demonstrating that his talent for portraying carnivorous lechery and polished duplicity works regardless of sexual orientation — and Mr. Damon is earnest and committed, the love, or whatever it was, between Thorson and Liberace never comes into emotional focus.”
“Douglas perfects Liberace’s nasally voice and ever present smile; Douglas says it was fun playing a character who smiles a lot, as opposed to many of his famous roles. Given his recent brush with mortality, Liberace’s death scene in this film as he wastes away from AIDS is especially haunting. Damon is a little old to play the 20-something Thorson, but he manages to pull it off, even in the many scenes where Damon bares nearly all. Exceptional costuming and makeup make the rest happen. Expect some Emmy nominations for the talented artistic team.”
“While ‘Candelabra’ is stocked with familiar faces and terrific actors doing their part to bring Liberace’s idiosyncratic world to life (especially Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s dear old mother and Rob Lowe as his plastic surgeon, both unrecognizable examples of the film’s consistently impressive makeup work), the movie belongs entirely to Douglas and Damon. The story is Thorson’s — who was only 17 when he moved in with Liberace, almost 40 years Thorson’s senior — and Damon nails a starry-eyed young man’s journey from naive eagerness to please to a drug-addicted empty vessel desperately clinging to his lover’s coattails. But the star turn comes from Douglas, who gives his first great performance of the decade and continues the run of sterling screen work he’s delivered since the 1970s. Miraculously avoiding caricature and only going as camp as necessary, Douglas makes Liberace something of a sympathetic monster.”