Beyond the Sea
Directed by Kevin Spacey. Starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi, Caroline Aaron, Peter Cincotti, William Ullrich. (2004, PG-13, 121 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 31, 2004
The movie based on the meteoric life of pop singer Bobby Darin, Beyond the Sea, is a Kevin Spacey rush: Not only does Spacey star in, direct, and write this show-biz biopic, he also does all his own singing (an impeccable Darin impersonation) and dancing (game but kind of stiff). This near-total Spaceyness is both the movie’s strength and weakness. At first, when Spacey as Darin is singing and swinging (in that Rat Pack nightclub style so out of date today), Beyond the Sea is vibrant and razor-sharp. However, as the film progresses through virtually every song in the Darin catalog, the mimicry phenomenon becomes worn and repetitive. That’s because the film’s narrative structure – a flashback structure in which the artist revisits key moments of his life as re-created in the fictional screen biography within the film – is unnecessarily convoluted and unwisely selective. Beyond the Sea focuses only on the dramatic highlights of Darin’s life: the rheumatic fever that haunted his childhood and left him with a weakened heart that finally gave out on him at the ripe old age of 37 (an age decades beyond any that he was medically expected to reach), the resulting drive instilled in him by his star-struck mother (Blethyn) to become bigger than Sinatra and do it before his failing ticker finally tocked, Darin’s tumultuous courtship and marriage to that era’s reigning pop princess Sandra Dee (stunningly captured by Bosworth), the family skeletons that tumble from the closet and complicate the skeins of Darin’s lineage, and his Sixties shift first to acting (he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award) and later to singer-songwriter protest music which fell, mostly, on deaf ears. What’s missing from all this is the sense of why any of it matters. Even though Beyond the Sea ostensibly performs a service by reviving Darin’s career for future generations, the movie fails miserably to make the case for his importance. It soon becomes apparent that this is the all-Spacey show, and instead of getting swept up in the life of Darin all we are ultimately watching is the Spacey impersonation show. It’s as if the filmmaker got so caught up in proving that he could perform all the individual tasks that he forgot about the big one: telling a good story well. The film’s direction is lackluster, and its sprawling, old-school musical sequences do the film little service: They are game but unconvincing. Furthermore, the movie’s strategy of having the childhood Darin appear in the flesh and talk to the adult Darin as he hits narrative road bumps in the telling of his life story in the film within the film is awkward and annoying. Most likely, the ill-advised strategy was concocted in response to Spacey’s naysayers, who argued that at 45 he was too old to play the part of a young pop idol who died at the age of 37. Admittedly, the age discrepancy is disconcerting at times, but Spacey so inhabits the body of Darin that his fidelity and commitment to the feat makes the sale. (Like Cate Blanchett has already demonstrated with her lifelike impersonation of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator this season, it is not absolutely necessary to embody a perfect visual likeness of a famous person if the actor has the more subtle cues to the model’s identity down pat.) Spacey indeed crawls inside the body of Bobby Darin to reveal the sound and the presence of a man now dead for more than 30 years, but he never captures Darin’s soul and human drive. Beyond the Sea is much more "Splish" than "Splash."