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Behind the Candelabra

Year: 2013
Studio: HBO
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Writer: Richard LaGravenese
Cast: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Dan Aykroyd, Rob Lowe, Debbie Reynolds, Cheyenne Jackson

As always, a corporate OH&S video would be brilliant if it was directed by Steven Soderbergh, and with at least one Oscar-worthy actor in the cast (in all honestly, has Michael Douglas ever really stood out in a role before now?), the result could hardly be anything but good.

Charting the last few years in the life of the most flamboyant entertainer in modern times, it tells the story through the eyes of one of Liberace's (Michael Douglas) young lovers, Scott Thorson (Matt Damon).

One of the deeper themes is the pursuit of youth. It's not strictly obvious that Lee (as he's known to his inner circle) wants to be young forever, but like the worst kind of heterosexual man, he wants to be surrounded by youth and beauty and is quick to give up anything that shows its age. Youth and beauty comes in the form of movie dog wrangler Scott, who's entranced by Liberace's Las Vegas show.

The attraction is instant, and he quickly becomes Lee's live in lover, deposing existing beau Billy (Cheyenne Jackson). As the snarling young man slides further out of Lee's orbit and eventually moves out, you can see the path laid out before the impressionable Scott.

It's made even more stark when Lee asks Scott to get plastic surgery to make them look more alike and despite his reservations, Scott goes along with it, all with the complicity of a physically and morally freakish LA plastic surgeon (Rob Lowe).

It's also somewhat about the perils of not being your own person, and how being merely half of a couple can drown the rest of you out. Even as Lee tells Scott he wants to be everything to him (including both father and lover) alarm bells should sound, but Scott falls even more under Lee's spell – enjoying the lavish lifestyle, changing himself to look and act like his lover and even working in his outrageous stage show. But when it gets even creepier and Lee starts talking about adopting Scott, the younger man only feels more beloved and taken care of.

It's also about relationships and where they can end up whether we're young, old, straight tor gay. Even surrounded by the glitzy ecosystem of riches and carefree living in the palatial casino hotels of Las Vegas, Scott and Lee end up like a bickering married couple, the former wanting to leave the four gilded walls for a simple night out, the latter wanting nothing more than to enjoy the comforts of their various kitschy homes.

Richard LaGravanese's script is a fairly straightforward story of a relationship that goes through a honeymoon period and then slowly crumbles (like millions of others), but he just happens to be talking about a famous gay entertainer who lived in the closet and effortlessly delivers a lot to say about the demands made on all of us by love.

Soderbergh's direction is similarly straightforward, but the production design is as detailed as it is period-appropriate and both Douglas and Damon are luminous on screen. More fool the US studios and kudos to HBO, who gave Soderbergh a deservedly massive audience.

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