Beyond the Sea (2004) / Drama-Musical

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for strong language and sensuality
Running Time: 121 min.

Cast: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi, Caroline Aaron, William Ullrich
Director: Kevin Spacey
Screenplay: Kevin Spacey, Lewis Colick
Review published December 19, 2004

Just a caveat: if you believe that Kevin Spacey (K-Pax, Pay It Forward), a man in his mid-40s, cannot and should not ever play Bobby Darin, a man who didn't even live beyond the age of 37, you probably will not even pass the first requirement to properly enjoy Spacey's tribute to the life and music of Darin in Beyond the Sea.  If you also dislike biopics that aren't always accurate, playing loose with the characters and events in order to strike certain themes and moments of resonance, this film may also not be for you.  However, if you take this film as an attempt to capture the essence and feeling of Bobby Darin, and not as an earnest attempt at an accurate portrayal, you'll most likely find that Spacey's virtual one-man show is heartfelt and entertaining.

Beyond the Sea (based on the name of one of Darin's biggest smash hits) begins its tale with an older Bobby Darin talking to a younger version (William Ullrich), the young boy known then as Bobby Cassotto.  Young Bobby suffered from rheumatic fever, which threatened to shorten his life severely (the doctor examining him mentioned that he'd be lucky to make it to his 15th birthday).  With the help of medicine and sheer determination, and a love for music spurned on by his loving family, Bobby makes it to adulthood, where he bursts on the scene as a performer.  He starts off as a teen idol with his hit, "Splish Splash", but his love for standards and the work of Frank Sinatra pushes him into becoming a legendary nightclub performer, recording legendary songs like "Dream Lover", "Mack the Knife", and "Beyond the Sea".  He courted and married the popular actress, Sandra Dee (Bosworth, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton), and also became moved by the activist movement to protest the Vietnam war, until he finally met his untimely death in the early 70s due to a heart surgery complications.

There's much more to the story than what you see in the previous paragraph, but Spacey sets up these revelations in such a way that revealing them might be a bit of a spoiler for those unfamiliar with Darin's extraordinary life.  Beyond the Sea marks Spacey's second turn as a director, after his 1996 film, Albino Alligator, and perhaps with the exception of his choice to cast himself in the lead role, Spacey does do a capable job with the material.  This is a project that had been in development since the late 80s, with a variety of screenplays and directors attached to the project, until ultimately, Spacey took hold of it, rewriting the script, and choosing to carry most of the load himself.

If anything, perhaps Spacey's involvement overshadows the talent of Darin himself, as he produces, writes, directs, acts, dances, and even sings all of the songs.  Spacey is quite a talented man, and he does perform admirably, but with such a vanity project, it's easy to take potshots.  Would another director have cast Spacey in the title role?  Very doubtful.  They probably wouldn't have had Spacey sing the songs as well, and it occurs to me that Spacey doesn't want to depict an accurate portrayal of Darin so much as to BE Darin.  Spacey admires Darin much in the same way that Darin wanted to fill the shoes of Sinatra, and the movie is a reflection of this admiration.  Basically, this is Spacey's tribute to a performer he idolizes, and probably shouldn't be judged as the final word on Darin's life.

So, how to judge this film?  Should I dis it for the miscasting of a 45-year-old man playing a 20+ Bobby Darin?  Should I gripe about Darin's vocal talents being replaced by Spacey?  Should I complain that it isn't completely accurate, or that it is highly romanticized?  Or, should I praise it for being an entertaining and loving appreciation from an actor to one of his biggest idols?  In the end, I'm opting for the latter, simply because I think that is exactly what Spacey was going for here, merely hitting biographical points for the purists, while he has a great time capturing the spirit and life that is Darin through his song and dance routines. 

Perhaps fans of Spacey will appreciate this more than fans of Bobby Darin, and while that may say something about Beyond the Sea's quality as a comprehensive biopic (or rather, lack of it), I still feel this is a quality portrayal with a terrific performance by Spacey in all aspects of the production.  Try not to judge this as Oscar-bait, or even as an attempt for a definitive biography, and just enjoy the sights, sounds, and talents of Spacey's tip off his hat for one of the great American performers of the 1960s.

Qwipster's rating::

2004 Vince Leo