Mark Reviews Movies

BEYOND THE SEA

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Kevin Spacey

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Caroline Aaron, Greta Scacchi

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and a scene of sensuality)

Running Time: 2:01

Release Date: 12/17/04 (limited); 12/29/04 (wide)


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Review by Mark Dujsik

A forty-five-year-old Kevin Spacey plays Bobby Darin in his late thirties playing himself in an autobiographical film that covers his professional life going back to his early twenties, and his friends in the crew argue that he's too old to play the part of himself at that young an age.  It's this self-reflexive quality of Beyond the Sea's opening act and finale that elevates the film above its far too formulaic and simplistic middle section, and in this way, Spacey (who also co-wrote and directed the film) manages not only to make an excuse for why his Darin seems so much older in his early career but also to reflect on the nature of the biopic and the immortality of celebrity. The irony of the second part is that a typical list of crooners of the time, in terms of familiarity, would most likely overlook Darin for the likes of Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, and, of course, Sinatra, and perhaps only for the reason that, while Darin died young, the others had (and, in Bennett's case, still have) career longevity on their side. Darin's destiny to die young was a significant part of his drive, though, and Spacey's loving portrait does a decent job attempting to counteract his early demise.

Darin is having difficulty deciding where to start his film. Should he open with "Mack the Knife," people booing him off stage, or his childhood? The young actor playing little Bobby (William Ullrich) thinks the last choice is the best option, and Darin soon agrees. Growing up, the young Walden Robert Cassotto suffers from rheumatic fever, which weakens his heart to a degree that his doctor says he won't live to see fifteen. His mother Polly (Brenda Blethyn) refuses to believe it, and she begins to teach her son all the tricks she learned on the vaudeville scene. Bobby sees fifteen and beyond and, after discovering his stage name, has a hit with "Splish Splash," a song that took him twenty minutes to write and made him a teen rock star. That's not where Darin wants to go with his career, though, and to the shock of his best friend and manager Steve Blauner (John Goodman), he starts to record standards. It's a gamble that pays off for Darin, and soon he's starring in movies with Rock Hudson and Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth), whom he eventually takes as his wife. Even with his multiple successes, nothing is good enough for Darin, who wants to be a legend and not just a star.

Spacey tackles the material with genuine love throughout and an inventive structure in the beginning. The young Bobby is not only a character in the film within the film but also the actual Darin as a boy, leading to moments when he has actual insight into important moments in his life. Once Darin goes through his mother's training in a montage of acquiring skill in multiple facets of musical performance, the sequence culminates with a dance sequence, amplifying the degree to which music influenced Darin's view of the world. Similarly, Darin's wooing of Dee on and off the set of Come September is set to a montage of him singing the title song to her. Spacey takes a theatrical approach in many scenes, as parts of his world are subtly revealed as pieces of set, and the film could easily have developed its almost musical presentation to further explore Darin's obsession. Instead, Spacey and Lewis Colick's screenplay begins to deteriorate into simplified and standard biopic territory once Darin's career solidifies. We have scenes of marital quarrels, becoming and setting up a headline act at the Copacabana, going off on his own to discover himself, and being rejected for taking on a new sound.

The film also neglects the key relationships in Darin's life by making most of his family and friends, for the most part, little more than recognizable faces in the background. Later in the film, his sister Nina (Caroline Aaron) and brother-in-law Charlie (Bob Hoskins) become more important as a family secret is revealed, but only one scene, in which Darin publicly acknowledges Nina for the first time, has any poignancy within the situation. More frustrating is the way Dee 's role is glossed over. There are hints of her troubled life in scenes involving her controlling mother (Greta Scacchi) and a montage of her downing drinks as Darin tours clubs, but the bulk of her problems are ignored. Kate Bosworth does a commendable job as Dee, who cannot stand to hand over the spotlight to her husband, but there should be more for her to take on. In the end, this is the Bobby Darin show, and in giving us a view of the performer, the film succeeds. Spacey highlights Darin's showmanship and sings his repertoire with flair. When the final act comes around and Darin's health begins to decline, the film returns to a conceptual approach, and the young and older Bobby share a duet.

The idea is that, while the real Darin dies, his spirit lives on in the form of his music and, specifically, in Spacey's portrayal. That might sound egotistical on Spacey's part, but to a degree, he's earned the right by honoring the crooner's music through the film. He also deserves credit for attempting to alter the language of the biopic, even if he stumbles back to the basics for a good portion of the run, but Beyond the Sea ultimately works as flattering homage. And did I mention the music's great?

Copyright 2005 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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