Producers: Jan Fantl, Arthur E. Friedman,
Andy Paterson, Kevin Spacey
Written by: Lewis Colick, Kevin Spacey
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman,
Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi, Caroline Aaron,
Peter Cincotti, William Ullrich
Kevin Spacey, who produced, co-wrote, directed,
and starred in this cinematic recounting of the life of crooning
night club legend Bobby Darin apparently harbors
much adulation for the man. That’s all well and good; we all
have heroes. Spacey, however, is a Hollywood bigshot with more clout
in the crags of his dimples than the rest of us have in our entire
unimportant bodies. Because of this, Spacey was granted the opportunity
to make a movie about someone he greatly admires. Woefully, the
story of Bobby Darin, even after the obligatory Hollywood maudlin
bath, just isn’t that interesting a tale.
In dead-entertainer Valhalla, Bobby Darin (Spacey) is making a
movie about his life. Unsure of where, exactly, to begin, Darin
asks the kid playing young Bobby Darin (the annoyingly self-aware
Ullrich) for his opinion. The kid, who it turns
out actually is young Bobby Darin and not an actor playing young
Bobby Darin (I’ll try to explain later, although I’m
not sure if any explanation truly exists), suggests beginning the
film by detailing the struggles of Darin’s impoverished, rheumatic
fever-stricken childhood. Darin’s mother (Aaron),
an old vaudevillian, infuses her son with a love of song and passes
on to him those zany dance moves. With his passion for showbiz and
his desire to out-Sinatra Sinatra working like a massive antibody
to battle his physical frailty, Darin sets out for Manhattan. Soon,
he’s represented by novice manager Steve Blauner
(Goodman, ever-tubby). After the requisite initial
failure, Darin pens the lyrically inane but improbably infectious
megahit “Splish Splash” (as in “I was taking a
bath”) and quickly attains stardom. Unhappy with mere teen
idol-hood, Darin seemingly effortlessly conceives edgier, classier
material, such as “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond
the Sea,” and, ravenously hoping his celebrity will increase
still, tries his hand at acting. While on the set of Come September,
Darin meets and romances the naïve and nymph-like Sandra
Dee (Bosworth), whom he rapidly marries.
After seducing her on their wedding night with an anecdote about
King Arthur and the production of a longsword from nowhere, the
media darling couple settles into the quibbling routines of marriage,
which ultimately leads to a reduced touring schedule for Darin and
his gradual decline from fame. But, after a brief and embarrassing
descent into hippiedom, Darin recaptures his essence, conveniently,
before perishing from his chronically weak ticker (subtly symbolized
in the film by a ticking, then not ticking, wristwatch). And there’s
an out-of-leftfield familial revelation toward the end to ratchet
up the tension. Darin dies a happy man, however, with a wife who,
despite their differences, loved him and, to my knowledge, a musical
legacy that has come nowhere close to being forgotten.
Which is the most urgent problem with Beyond the Sea:
It tells the rather unremarkable story of an entertainer whose life
was not terribly dramatic, nor was his work ever in danger of vanishing
into obscurity. When compared to the life of Ray Charles,
whose biopic is currently also on display at your local cineplex,
one must question what the exigency is in telling Darin’s
tale. Ray Charles conquered blindness; Bobby Darin conquered…
a receding hairline? Spacey is an undeniable Darin-aholic, but there
isn’t one aspect of the musician’s life, as chronicled
here, which can be categorized as extraordinary. Darin’s health
matters never appear urgent. His rags-to-riches achievement of the
American Dream is blasé. His romance with Sandra Dee is slipshod
and underdeveloped, as are his family troubles, and his pensive,
soul-searching period is sappy to the point of being comical (it’s
difficult to feel too much sympathy for a rich man who is also married
to a beautiful actress). The only thing at which Darin appeared
to excel was gushing sheer arrogance like hemophiliacs do blood.
If that’s the only criterion for a man’s life to be
dramatized for an audience, I’d next like to nominate Jose
Canseco for cinematic treatment.
One might forgive Spacey’s choice of subject if his directorial
and stylistic choices were interesting, but he falters on those
counts, too. As alluded to earlier in this review, the beyond-the-grave/posthumous-movie-of-Darin’s-life
framing device is muddled and incomprehensible. The film begins
with Darin on-set, tinkering with the project as it’s being
made, but as his sequential narrative unfolds the audience never
returns to Darin working on his life-film, and the device is mysteriously,
confusingly dropped. Similarly, Darin’s younger incarnation,
Little Bobby (as he’s billed in the credits), is enigmatically
often present to observe events and sometimes interact with objects
in older Darin’s narrative, harkening back to the film’s
set-up. But since no concrete explanation is given as to what purpose
Little Bobby serves (other than blatantly spoon-feeding the audience
schmaltz), his bizarre presence in the film is distracting and altogether
unnecessary. One must acknowledge Spacey’s attempt to tell
the story in a unique manner, with Darin’s posthumous reflection
and his child-self guiding him throughout his life (at least that’s
what I assume is happening). It is indefensible how Spacey and his
co-writer failed to develop these elements. Beyond the Sea
is imminently unsure of its classification as drama or fantasy bombast,
as its numerous, spontaneous song-and-dance sequences attest. To
pour more proverbial salt into the audience’s wounds, Spacey
never exhibits confidence or originality behind the camera. His
unimpressive stabs at trick shots and in-camera effects smack of
Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (helmed with much more
class by fellow actor George Clooney) or Eternal
Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and his inability to infuse
any visual style into a supernaturally tinged film about the King
of Cool in the insane 1960s reeks of wasted opportunity.
In his defense, Spacey is a hoot to watch as Darin, singing, strutting,
and high-kicking awkwardly like an arrogant but talented entertainer.
The rest of the cast is almost anonymous behind Spacey’s bravado
and their underwritten roles, which is yet another indication of
how challenging it must have been to bring Darin’s rather
dull life to the screen. It is no wonder, then, that Beyond
the Sea is so uninteresting.
Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.
Itís worth a full-price ticket.
Itís worth a matinee ticket.
Wait for video rental.
Check out the video from the library, if you must.
While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...