Their story is one that has been told a thousand times before - of a love affair that outran its own course. There is nothing special in that sad state of things, be it the failure of either a same sex or heterosexual relationship. In this case the sugar daddy doted for a bit and the sugar baby revelled in the attention. They may even have convinced themselves, as well as others, that they were actually in love. But when it all goes wrong and Liberace turns his attention to a younger, shinier model of the Scott who he has already had surgically remodelled, no-one can possibly be surprised. The story is as old as time itself and just as predictable and because the two protagonists are not very likeable a hearty exhalation of relief can be sighed as the film reaches its conclusion.
There is not even the intrigue of being ignorant of the denouement. Anyone who was alive at the time, and anyone else who cares, knows that Liberace died of Aids related causes after having denied his homosexuality for decades. His representatives initially told the disbelieving world that he had died of a heart attack. Thus the film cannot pack a narrative punch. What then is left?
Thank goodness for some really impressive acting which kept the film bubbling along quite happily despite its shortcomings. Michael Douglas as the besequinned, bejewelled and Botoxed Liberace gives what must be the acting performance of his life. It is so good an interpretation of the man that he will be lauded with plaudits. Never too camp, never too mercurial, the lasting impression is of a man who has risen above tawdry entertainment only to find that life itself is both tawdry and unsatisfactory. On occasion the characterisation is just so detailed that the effort shows. In particular in the live performance scenes, Douglas, whilst trying to replicate the physicality and delivery of his subject, never quite manages to capture his élan and spirit. Those millions of TV and live spectators responded to something when Liberace was at his height and Douglas doesn’t quite get to the same place.
Matt Damon is very good as Thorson. The portrayal is utterly believable from infatuation through to revenge. The damaged, fostered child is offered love as an adult and takes it. The love however is not simple and Liberace’s demands are such that Thorson soon finds himself on the slippery pole of drug taking and alcohol abuse. Damon takes all of this in his stride as he does a particularly disturbing part of the film where Liberace demands of Thorson that he is remade in his own image. Damon’s skill is consummate in that we understand the reasons the character agrees to such a preposterous demand. There follows a particularly unpleasant section of the film where we are not spared much in the depiction of reconstructive face surgery.
There are two film stealing cameos. Rob Lowe as the plastic surgeon and Debbie Reynolds as Liberace’s bemused Polish mother. With Dan Ackroyd also in the film and the reins in the hands of director Steven Soderbergh, it is as classy a piece of work as you would expect. The problem remains though that it’s a film about two not very nice people and you know how it’s all going to end.