The life of Liberace would not be the story I would have picked for Steven Soderbergh’s last film. Before watching this film, I didn’t even think that Liberace would be a figure that would make for an interesting film subject. I confess that I knew very little about Liberace. That side of show business was never a section that interested me at all. Why would I care about Las Vegas showmen who wore glitzy costumes and played the slide style piano to an adoring older audiences from middle America who had no inkling of an idea that he was gay although he clearly was? Because even hacks are people, too Maria… Geesh.
Michael Douglas plays Liberace in his waning years. But you could not tell by the way he courts young men, plays in his shows or buys expensive things. He is a vibrant old queen who gets hitched up with Matt Damon’s Scott Thorson. Scott becomes Liberace’s lover almost upon instant meeting and is transformed overnight. Instead of a shy young kid who wants to be a veterinarian, Scott becomes a glitzy beefcake who prances around in Liberace’s palace like he is the queen there. Liberace goes on a spending spree just for him: a brand new house put in his name, all the furnishings that go in it, four cars, tons of gold jewelry including lots of pinky rings and chains, and eventually plastic surgery to make Scott look just like him. That last bit was a little much for me I have to confess. Why would you ever want your lover to look anything like yourself? By the time this event happened, I had witnessed enough extravagance that I was not that surprised by it. Scott went along with everything. The tragedy of the story is not Liberace’s demise, but Scott’s. Having everything handed to him after being abandoned by his mother, took a toll on Scott. The story goes down the typical direction that most biographies of famous people do.
What I liked about this film is Steven Soderbergh’s ability to not judge someone. Liberace is kind of joke. His house is full of gold and diamonds, his taste is gaudy, even his voice and mannerisms are kind of affectation that seemed to be just for show. I would have judged him outright, but then I wouldn’t have been able to make such a truthful film like Soderbergh does here. Despite Liberace’s fame and the sort of crazy circumstances this couple lived in, they still had moments in their relationship that I think more conventional people have. Moments of strife, moments of violence, moments of passion and moments of worry about the other person are all present here. Not only are they present but they are the showcase of the film. It is very clear that Scott not only thought of Liberace as the father figure that he never had, but he was also in love with him and would do anything for him. Sometimes however external circumstances push on us until they influence what our internal feelings are.