Sex, Lies and Piano – ★★★½
Steven Soderbergh has retired and yet is still making films, but now they’re for television as he hates the movie industry even though they’re getting released in the cinema. So he hasn’t really retired even though he keeps shitting on that he has…blah blah blah. So is his latest project Behind the Candelabra any good? Yes, it carries all his hallmark bells and whistles and makes for an entertaining watch if being slightly unoriginal.
Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) is a young, slightly dim pretty boy who is taken to a Liberace (Michael Douglas) show and is instantly blown away. When Liberace first spies Scott backstage it would seem the pair would become inseparable, giving us the classic tale of boy meets old slightly creepy guy. A whirlwind romance develops with Liberace showering Scott with all he could wish for; gold rings, cars and money. Scott feels reluctant to accept at first but soon finds his stride, even demanding the removal of a long serving house boy. The dream can’t last forever and with drugs, paranoia and jealousy starting to consume Scott, Liberace’s eyes begin to wonder.The film has a tremendous dream quality with soft focus and deep yellows enveloping us like a warm blanket. We are taken in by Liberace’s charm and charisma and easily see how an adopted child like Scott could adore the compassion, attention and sense of belonging Liberace provides. Things don’t get weird until Liberace requests his plastic surgeon makes Scott look more like him. So accustomed to the lifestyle (or blinded by love), Scott consents and this really is the beginning of the end. Scott never properly carved out a position for himself, simply being incorporated in Liberace’s stage show as a limo driver, meaning his whole sense of worth is tied to the pianist extraordinaire.
The supporting cast assembled is fantastic, special mention has to go to Rob Lowe as a nearly unrecognisable plastic surgeon. Dan Aykroyd does a great turn as Liberace’s agent and aide-de-camp and keep an eye peeled for Scott Bakula (Sam from Quantam Leap). Damon and Douglas are fantastic in the lead roles with Damon constantly transforming his body image throughout the piece while Douglas captures the spirit of Liberace perfectly with that sparkle behind the eyes.
The film certainly isn’t a puff piece on the star, showing him warts and all. It would appear all great people have a bit of bastard in them and Liberace is no different. It’s a testament to the acting that we feel Scott’s heartbreak and yet pity Liberace in spite of all his cheating ways. There isn’t much new here however in terms of story – young naive type taken in by bright lights, a chance at the big time and it all comes tumbling down, we’ve seen it before in the likes of Boogie Nights and Casino.
Soderbergh is rarely a disappointment and once again he delivers up a tasty slice of Americana in this examination of celebrity and all its trappings.
USA / Directed By: Steven Soderbergh / Written By: Richard LaGravenese / Starring: Michael Douglas, Matt Damon, Rob Lowe, Dan Aykroyd / 118min / Drama / Release: 7 June 2013 (Ireland, UK), aired on HBO in the US on 2nd June 2013