Michael Douglas won't get an Oscar for this. Neither will Matt Damon, Steven Soderbergh, his costume designers or anyone from makeup. They won't because the studios deemed it 'too gay' for theatres (but Brokeback Mountain, Milk, J. Edgar and I Love You, Phillip Morris were okay?). In stepped HBO, rendering it ineligible come Oscar night, which is a shame because Soderbergh's last film before he retires might have cleaned up.
Set over roughly a ten year period, the story centres on Scott Thurson (Damon), an animal trainer who is introduced to the elderly virtuoso pianist and flamboyant showman Liberace (Douglas) after one of his shows. It's an immediate attraction but the age gap and the pressure to keep Liberace's sexual orientation quiet puts a strain on the relationship.
It's a movie of two halves. First, it's all fun and games as we're introduced to the world of Liberace: the mansion, the clothes, the jewellery, the ‘house boy' - and Soderbergh does a tidy job of building up this once-in-a-lifetime romance between a country boy and a lonely millionaire. It's so consistently bizarre that by the time Liberace strolls on stage wearing what can only be described as a house made of sheep, there's minimal reaction; what might be strange to some, this world is commonplace to others and easy to disappear into if you're surrounded by it all day every day.
But then the fun and games stops and a dark drama emerges. The funny-weird becomes just weird-weird: despite being lovers, Liberace wants to adopt Scott because "I always wanted children... and I love Christmas," and encouraging Scott to have surgery so they look the same. All the while Soderbergh slowly strips away the magic from the romance.
Douglas, hidden behind so much makeup, toupees, fey voice and flirty eyes, is revitalised in the role, but as good as Matt Damon is here he is just too old to play Scott, who was a teenager at the time, and whose tell-all book this is adapted from. Two surprising cameos deliver: Rob Lowe's plastic surgeon, whose face is frozen in a permanent spooky smile, and Debbie Reynolds as Liberace's mother.
There's more going on here than just romance if one was to peer under the glitz, which is what makes Behind The Candelabra always engaging.