Most helpful positive review
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Furs, facelifts & poodles
on 24 June 2013
What an unexpectedly pleasing, touching movie.
When I first heard Michael Douglas had been cast as arch showman Liberace (someone I remember on TV from my youth) I thought what inspired casting it was. What I didn`t suspect was just how moving and believable an impression of the man he would give.
Liberace was as camp as they come, and a very closeted gay man in an America not quite ready to embrace such a concept, particularly someone whose persona was that of an unthreatening, cosy, mildly outrageous middle-of-the-road entertainer. Things evidently haven`t come that far, as director Steven Soderbergh couldn`t get funding from the studios for a feature film (too overtly gay, apparently!) so his project became a TV movie, though you`d never know it, such is the lustre of the finished film he managed to make, despite the puerile queasiness of American sensibilities even now.
What is so effective about Douglas`s considered performance is that, rather than overplay his hand, making an already flamboyant, often flippant man into a vapid caricature - which is what I`d feared - he in fact underplays, to great effect, leaving the script, sets, costumes - oh, the costumes! - to go OTT, while he allows us to see the real man `behind the candelabra`. It`s an intelligent decision, which repays great dividends.
I`ve rarely seen Douglas so relaxed in a role. Like his dad, he`s quite an intense actor, and can be a showy one, so the fact that he reins it in here is to be applauded.
Matt Damon, as his younger lover Scott Thorson, on whose memoir the film is based, is a revelation. We are used to seeing Damon in buttoned-up, self-contained, rather unsmiling roles - from Ripley to Bourne - but here he lets rip, and then some! With long floppy hair and a bod in disgustingly fine fettle, he plays the part with exactly the right combination of youthful brio and wounded innocence. He can be a witty actor, and he uses his propensity for dry wit here, though mostly he is either wide-eyed, drugged up, or livid at the latest example of his lover-daddy`s perceived selfishness. It`s a bravura piece of acting from this invariably superb actor.
Rob Lowe...well, what can I say? Inspirational casting, once more. He plays a droopy-eyed plastic surgeon with dodgy teeth, and seems to be permanently either stoned or in some otherwise beatific state. It is one of the oddest performances in a film I`ve seen for some time, and I`m undecided whether Lowe should be proud or thoroughly ashamed of himself. (On balance, proud.)
Dan Aykroyd is barely recognisable as Liberace`s long-suffering manager, and turns in a terrific, credible performance, while none other than Debbie Reynolds is completely unrecognisable as Liberace`s mother: Mrs Liberace, for that was indeed his real surname.
By the end it would take a hard heart not to be moved, and I was, both by Liberace and his lonely, sad demise, and by Douglas`s performance.
I wouldn`t go so far as to call this a great movie, but it`s so much better than anyone had any right to expect it to be.
An appropriate quote (surprisingly not used in the film) from the man himself:
`Gee, you`ve been such a wonderful audience that I don`t like to take your money. But I will!`
Classy. Like this movie.