This is Not a TV-movie
Every time I see Behind the Candelabra mentioned as a “TV-movie” I think of it as an insult.
To me this label means that it’s a second rate movie. TV-films are the ones that went wrong, the ones that were judged not to be good enough to go up in a theatre, so someone decided to dump it on TV instead. They look cheap. Nobody talks about them. They don’t get proper reviews and they don’t get the most prestigious awards. They don’t count.
I know that things have changed over the last few years. The best writers write for TV nowadays and we get series such as Breaking Bad, which beats most of what we get to see in theatres. But when it comes to a stand-alone “TV-movies”, I remain suspicious. I always expect them to feel cheap. You probably know what I mean.
Behind the Candelabra carries this unfortunate label in IMDb, since it for reasons which I cannot understand only was screened on TV in US. In Europe we were more fortunate and got the chance to see it on the big screen that it deserved.
For my own part I suppose that I shouldn’t complain. After all I watched it properly, in a theatre big enough make this lavish, glamorous and glittering film look at its best.
Never heard of Liberace
Coming this far in the review writing I’m asking myself: does everyone here know the story of this film or do I need to make a short summary? Have the people who hang in the café for drinks and food for thought even heard of the pianist named Liberace?
Judging from how he’s presented in the movie, as a super star among the super stars, you would think we’d all be familiar with his name. But if I go to myself, I hadn’t heard about the guy before. I don’t know if this is a sign of that his fame hadn’t reached Sweden, or if I’ve been living under a rock and missed out something that everyone else knows about.
In any case you’re as ignorant as me, you don’t need to worry. This film is just as enjoyable anyway. I can even imagine it’s an advantage to be clueless about the real Liberace. Then you won’t run the danger of falling into the trap of comparing the movie against reality, which always is a risk with biopics.
The point of this film is not to make a documentary-like portray of a real person. This doesn’t rely on the gossip value. It’s simply a good story about the rise and fall of a love relationship between two men, a story that would be worth telling even if it was entirely made up.
IMDb puts it in the genres “biography”, “drama” and “romance”, but I would like to add “thriller” or possibly even “horror”, since it goes in to a pretty creepy territory when Liberace suggests his younger lover to do certain things that won’t be revealed here, but which are rather shocking.
Too much is wonderful
“Too Much of a Good Thing Is Wonderful” is the tagline of the film, which I think is spot on in describing it. There’s an abundance of flair, of costumes, of feathers and glitter and Jacuzzis and champagne. In this way it fits well into the decadence theme that trended in movies in 2013, starting with Behind the Candelabra, followed by The Great Gatsby and Spring Breakers, finishing with The Wolf of Wall Street which obviously topped everything.
Michael Douglas didn’t get any Academy Award for his Liberace performace. I don’t think he even was eligible, because of the TV-movie label. But he’s got plenty of other, less significant, awards, and he deserves each one of them. I’ve heard interviews with him where he sounded happy and proud of his appearance in this film, and he has every right to be so. Here he plays the whole register, not only on the piano, but as a person, altering between being a tender, sympathetic, vulnerable older lover to being a creepy, possessive, narcissistic lying jerk.
“I want to be everything to you, Scott. I want to be father, brother, lover, best friend.”, Liberace says to his partner.
Michael Douglas manages to be all of this, in a believable way. He doesn’t feel like the cartoonish figure he could have been. He’s alive.
And I still can’t grasp why this is a TV-movie. It’s a shame.
Behind the Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh, US 2013) My rating: 4/5