BEYOND THE SEA (2004)
Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi, Caroline Aaron, Peter Cincotti, Michael Byrne, Matt Rippy, Gary Whelan, William Ullrich, Jake Broder, Tayfun Bademsoy, Tomas Spencer and Tom Mannion.
Screenplay by Kevin Spacey and Lewis Colick.
Directed by Kevin Spacey.
Distributed by LionsGate Films. 121 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Some people may find it surprising that Kevin Spacey made it such a personal goal to film the life story of fifties crooner Bobby Darin. After all, Darin was a teen pop star turned second-tier Sinatra. While he was certainly a talented, conflicted man, at this point, he is mostly remembered for three or four classic songs; the lounge cover of A Threepenny Opera’s “Mack the Knife,” the title track, the teen dance craze “Splish Splash” and his late-career stab at relevancy with the folky “If I Were A Carpenter.” (Although, strangely this last song is ignored in the film’s “comeback” scenes for the less well known, but more politically overt song “Simple Song of Freedom” which is repeated ad nauseam.) Darin was also told by doctors as a little boy that he’d probably never reach adulthood, which gives his every triumph and backslide a sense of borrowed time. He was part of a combustible star marriage, even though his wife, Sandra Dee was known specifically for her white bread image. And, of course, for the whiz bang finale to a bio pic, you can never beat a talented man dying young. (Darin succumbed at the age of thirty seven.)
His life was fascinating in many ways, and at the same time there are probably dozens of stars whose life story is even more intriguing who have never been immortalized.
However, in the long run, it is not our place to question why Spacey has become so fixated on Darin and made this film his mission. He grew to love Darin as a young boy and our questioning it is impudent and besides the point. Spacey can make a film about anyone that he wants. We will register our agreement or disagreement simply by whether we see it or not.
On that scale, Beyond the Sea is definitely worth seeing. It is not perfect, but it is time well spent, nonetheless. The movie is rather reminiscent — in both the positives and the negatives — of the Cole Porter bio DeLovely, which was released earlier in the year. Like that film, Beyond the Sea has a frame story in which a dying Bobby Darin is taken on a guided tour of his own life (in this film, the tour guide is his younger self) which is often choreographed like a Broadway musical. Moments of great drama are played off of high-stepping musical extravaganzas giving the film an oddly fantastical feel which makes even the most realistic scenes feel a bit like a fairytale.
Spacey does an amazing job of portraying Darin; with one slight caveat. He is currently 43-years-old, six years older than Darin was when he died. While this is no problem when he is playing Darin in the later years, it is rather noticeable when he is playing a teenager or a guy in his early 20s that Spacey is too old for this part of the role — he plays it well enough, but you can’t help but notice how much older Darin looks than anyone else he is with.
However, one thing that could have stopped the movie in its tracks turns out to be a great triumph. Who’d ‘a’ thunk it, but the guy who played Kayser Soze, a dissatisfied suburban headcase and a serial killer obsessed with the deadly sins turns out to be one hell of a song-and-dance man. His vocals are not quite as good as those of the singer that he is playing, but they are damned close.
The movie follows Darin from when he was a sickly little boy (he contracted rheumatic fever at age seven and his mother was told he’s be dead by fifteen) through his first musical triumphs and his wooing of teen idol Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). He quickly becomes a star, however he is never satisfied that he is taken seriously. He tries to branch his musical style from teen pop to the old standards. He also takes a whack at acting, even getting nominated for an Oscar.
Eventually, though, Darin disappears from public gaze when his style of music is eclipsed by the British invasion. He becomes more political (writing the just slightly simplistic anti-war tune “Simple Song of Freedom.”) When he is touring, he insists on equality and integration at his shows.
The scenes where Darin stands up for the integration of his shows do represent a brave stand upon Darin’s part, however the film has the misfortune of coming so soon after Ray. You can’t help but feel that the power of the gesture is weakened after seeing Ray Charles make the same decisions in his bio pic. Bobby Darin is making a stand that may affect his popularity and perhaps even his lifestyle, however it was a life-or-death struggle for Charles, who was immersed in the problem in a way that Darin never could be.
Some of the dramas and tragedies in his life also seem to be mostly of Darin’s own making. His relationship with Dee is certainly not a great one, however she seems more the victim than he does. Scenes where Darin is devastated by the assassination of Robert Kennedy would have been more effective if the movie spent more time setting up Darin’s relationship with the slain politician. When Darin moves out on his wife and son and spend months living in a house trailer by the Pacific, he may very well have been going through a dark night of the soul, however from the outside he seems rather selfish and irresponsible.
A late bombshell revelation by Darin’s sister creates a not unexpected rift, however the length of the grudge which Darin holds seems excessive; eventually you think the guy should just learn to deal with it. When he finally does make up with her, in public and on stage, it seems a bit arbitrary because he has been so obstinate on the point for so long and we don’t get to really see his change of heart.
All of these things may very well be true facts, but that doesn’t mean they all work as drama. However there are enough dramatic moments here that do work (the whole thing is worth seeing just to hear the venom in Spacey’s voice in a scene after Darin lost the only chance he’d ever had at an Oscar when he says, “Warren Beatty came with Leslie Caron and I was there with Gidget!”). The musical scenes are also spontaneous and joyously performed, if occasionally over the top.
In the end, you may not come out of Beyond the Sea as enthralled with Bobby Darin as Kevin Spacey. You will get a better understanding of who the man was, though. Just like his musical career, Bobby Darin’s life story may have never hit the heights of Frank Sinatra’s, but it’s still a tale worth telling. (12/04)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2004 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 29, 2004.