Film Reviews

BEYOND THE SEA

By • Dec 29th, 2004 •

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Lions Gate Films / An Archer Street / Trigger Street productions
No MPAA rating / 118 minutes

QUOTE: A vainglorious valentine, but either act or direct. Please don’t do both.

Who knew Kevin Spacey has this much clout? Who wrote this thing? There is no screenwriter mentioned on any website – even the official website for the film. I spent way too much time hunting for this credit. Even the screener sent to me by the studio lists on the back “For Your Consideration” Best Original Screenplay, with no name underneath it!

This is Spacey’s “I Love Me” movie. He starts it right off with an obvious nod to his critics. On a soundstage rehearsing for the tenth time his opening song for the movie on his life he is directing, Darin (Kevin Spacey) is asked if he is too old to play himself. It’s a fantasy inside a movie. I hate this kind of thing. It was so poorly done in DE-LOVELY and here it is: The same creative device dragged out again. And having Bobby Darin The Kid (William Ullrich) talking to Bobby Darin The Man (Kevin Spacey) is just horrible. However, it does allow for the absurd musical dance numbers that pepper the story. Spacey does a big MGM dance number, though it’s not done in water.

Bobby The Man and Bobby The Kid discuss their life. Bobby The Kid is a pretentious psychoanalyst.

Bobby Darin grows up dirt poor in New York City without a father. His mother Polly (Brenda Blethyn) is devoted to him. When he is seven years old he is stricken with rheumatic fever that damages his heart. He survives predictions of an early death and becomes a musical prodigy encouraged by Polly and his sister Nina (Caroline Aaron). Soon he is in show business. His entourage grows to include Nina’s husband (and father substitute) Charlie (Bob Hoskins), patient manager (John Goodman), and music director (Peter Cincotti). Darin becomes a sensation with his hits “Splish Splash,” “Mack the Knife,” and “Beyond the Sea.” But Darin wants to be bigger than Frank Sinatra. He does not want to be merely a teen idol.

On the set of his first movie in Italy Darin meets eighteen-year old virgin Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) and her arms-flaying-foot stomping stage tyrant mother, Mary (a sadly miscast Greta Scacchi). Darin instantly wins Sandra over and they marry. They have a son, Sandra starts drinking, Darin loses an Academy Award to Melvin Douglas in HUD and pitches a terrific hissy fit, and no one wants to hear him sing protest songs. Darin decides to become political and perhaps go into politics until Nina tells him the family secret. After a heart attack, Darin decides to put back on the wig and tuxedo, shave off the mustache, and start singing again. But this time, there is a full orchestra and choir backing up his protest songs.

I soon forgave Spacey the age factor, though I hope this will not become a trend. No one wants to see Clint Eastwood kiss 22 year olds or Meryl Streep play Juliet. Spacey’s adoration for Darin is infectious. He does his own singing and clearly has studied Darin’s stage movements. The big musical numbers were frankly hilarious but watching Spacey so in love with his dancing and choreography (by Rob Ashford) makes it shamefully entertaining.

No wonder no one is taking credit for writing BEYOND THE SEA. The story is secondary to the fourteen songs Spacey sang. Somewhere in the life of Bobby Darin is a compelling story.

WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD

Darin was raised by an over-protective mother. Told by doctors he would not live past fifteen, he must have been fussed over and lived with a death shadow lurking over his head. He survives and becomes a huge success. After marrying Dee his star starts falling and they were competitive and jealous of each other. When Darin decides to give up show business and perhaps enter politics, his sister tells him she is really his mother. This is devastating and should have been the subtext underlining the film. It is never foreshadowed. Was Nina always just a grating presence around her brother as shown here, or was she more dominating after his mother died? Was there ever competition between Polly and Nina for Bobby’s love? There wasn’t even a decent brother-sister relationship between them.

Spacey splendidly channels Darin and he clearly loves singing and dancing. (Kevin, why not do a Broadway musical next and get this drowning compulsion out of your system for good?) However, Spacey’s reluctance to get the camera in close derails any sexual magic between him and Bosworth. The drama suffers through fear of the close-up. And whatever Spacey knows about the ugly side of show business is just not here.

Bobby Darin must have been a far more complicated, tortured artist than Spacey chose to dramatize. Too bad, because this sanitized music legend’s childhood crisis and family conflict would have made a terrific drama. It would still have had a fabulous soundtrack of great songs, but those dance numbers would have been relegated to Spacey’s Directors Cut DVD version.


Cast:
Bobby Darin: Kevin Spacey
Sandra Dee: Kate Bosworth
Steve Blauner: John Goodman
Charlie Maffia: Bob Hoskins
Polly: Brenda Blethyn
Mary: Greta Scacchi
Nina: Caroline Aaron
Young Bobby: William Ullrich

Credits:
Director: Kevin Spacey
Written By: Presently Unknown
Producers: Andy Paterson, Jan Fantl, Arthur E. Friedman, Kevin Spacey
Director of photography: Eduardo Serra
Production designer: Andrew Laws
Music: Christopher Slaski
Costume designer: Ruth Myers
Choreography: Rob Ashford
Editor: Trevor Waite.

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