A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Behind the Candelabra is a vivid tale about a May-December romance between a musical celebrity and his much-younger lover that contains a lot of hot-button content. We see men kissing, hot tubbing, and cuddling, as well as talking very graphically about oral and anal sex, and seemingly engaging in anal sex, with implied nudity, thrusting, and grunting. We also see the naked backsides of actors Matt Damon and Michael Douglas, and numerous men shirtless. Actors drink, smoke cigarettes, and use amphetamines, amyl nitrate, and cocaine, though the drug use is not glamorized and the realities of drug addiction are shown starkly. There are slightly gory surgical montages, and conversations where characters worry about aging and gaining weight and resolve to fight the march of time with cosmetic surgery. Viewers will hear many four-letter words ("f--k"), and slurs against gay men: "You old queen!" Nonetheless, Behind the Candelabra is a moving, relatable love story with a lot to say about human frailty and the many ways people hurt the ones they love.
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What's the story?
Based on the real-life autobiography of the same name, BEHIND THE CANDELABRA follows a chapter in the life of Liberace, the famously flamboyant pianist, during his turbulent romance with Scott Thorson, a man half his age. The pair meet during a fateful backstage visit and when Thorson catches Liberace's eye the musician extends an offer to make Thorson his kept man. Years of incredible decadence follow: custom Rolls Royces, bespoke suits, Lear jets, Champagne, and hot tubs. And, perhaps inevitably, the high life descends into drug abuse, affairs and an acromonious split during which Thorson notoriously sued Liberace for palimony and threw his ex-lover to the (tabloid) lions just a few years before Liberace died of complications from AIDS, one of the very first celebrities to do so.
Is it any good?
The trappings of Thorson and Liberace's romance are so eye-poppingly over the top that most viewers will turn on Behind the Candelabra for just this reason. Gilded cherubs? Rhinestoned cars? Gleaming silver chauffeur's uniforms, a coat with a 16-foot ermine train, Liberace and Thorson swanning around a sleazy adult bookstore in matching fur coats. This is fun stuff to watch, whether or not you're slightly skeeved out by the notion of a rich older dude who rents a foxy younger one. Or possibly, viewers might be tuning in to see if two famous actors are really, actually going to make out onscreen (and they do. A lot. And more).
But there's more at work here than just a "look at the freaks!" mentality. Liberace, stunningly realized by Michael Douglas, is by turns predatory and fatherly, supportive yet scary, warm and caring to his lover yet eager to call in a plastic surgeon (a hilariously squinty-eyed and coifed Rob Lowe) to transform said lover's face into a younger version of his own. At times, the romance between Thorson and Liberace is almost painfully sweet. What viewer would have expected that? One starts the movie ready to laugh at Liberace, a famously closeted gay fellow who chased younger men and lived the campiest lifestyle imaginable. But by Behind the Candelabra's end, not only do you like the guy and Thorson too, you pity the doomed romance and the real people in it. Behind the Candelabra is a gorgeous, moving document of two people who found each other and then lost what they had.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Liberace. Have you ever seen the real Liberace? Watch some clips of him on YouTube. How well did Douglas capture the singer?
Is the audience supposed to approve of Thorson and Liberace's romance? Did your opinion of the relationship change while watching the movie?
Read up on the struggles director Steven Soderbergh had getting Behind the Candelabra made. Why do you think studios balked at making the movie?
Themes & Topics
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