|Beyond the Sea
If there was any sort of trend toward Oscar bait movies in 2004, one might argue that it was the
biopic form that won out. Several key features about real-life individuals hit the screens with varying results.
Some were dream project of the director (e.g., KINSEY), while others originated with the lead actor
(Leonardo DiCaprio in THE AVIATOR). Only one, though, became such an obsession that one man
co-wrote, produced, directed and starred in the film. That dubious honor falls to Kevin Spacey
and BEYOND THE SEA.
For Spacey, the ideal of portraying now-forgotten teen idol turned actor Bobby Darin in a movie
has been a dream for nearly two decades. Over the years, other actors and directors flirted with the idea
of turning Darin's short life into a movie, but there were always various roadblocks. Spacey persisted
and eventually won the support of Darin's family and friends. For that, he can be commended. What he's
put on screen, however, is another matter entirely.
As with the equally offensive DE-LOVELY, BEYOND THE SEA takes an odd approach to
telling Darin's life. In the former, Cole Porter's life unfolded as a series of scenes in a stage musical. Spacey
has opted to have Darin making a movie of his own life story. That prompts a reporter early in the film
to quip that some say he's too old for the role, to which Darin's supporters chime in that he was born
to play the role. While Spacey bears a slight resemblance to Darin, it's a mark of the hubris of this project
that the line exists in the film. In fact, Spacey is some eight years older than Darin was at his death, and
seeming him portray the teenage singer is almost as laughable as Diana Ross as Dorothy in THE WIZ.
In all honesty, BEYOND THE SEA may become a camp classic along the lines of
MOMMIE DEAREST. The production numbers are staged ineptly and the choreography is low rent
and wouldn't pass muster on a Vegas stage let alone in an MGM movie (which seems to be the ambition
of the movie). The script is full of bad dialogue, epitomized by an Oscar night fight between Darin and
then-wife Sandra Dee (embodied by the seemingly talentless Kate Bosworth).
As a director, Spacey is ungenerous to his fellow performers. When actors the likes of Brenda
Blethyn, Bob Hoskins and John Goodman are reduced to caricature, there is clearly something wrong.
Spacey also allows Caroline Aaron to overemote and overact, so that a key confession that should be
shocking and/or moving comes off badly. Only Greta Scacci as Dee's domineering stage mother
manages to make an impression.
But this is Spacey's show, and he has to bear the responsibility for its failure, including its lousy script
and tepid direction. I will give the actor credit for having the chutzpah to sing the well-known songs. While
he lacks the bite and phrasing that Darin brought to the music, Spacey does have a pleasant voice. The
problem, of course, is that he isn't Darin. (Again, I hate to invoke her again, but it was the same flaw
when Diana Ross portrayed Billie Holiday in LADY SINGS THE BLUES; anyone at all familiar
with Holiday's heartbreaking singing felt something was lacking.)
There are several biographies about Darin (including one written by his son) that provide insight into
the man. BEYOND THE SEA, a highly fictionalized and stylized take on the singer's life, ultimately fails
to inform the viewers. It says so much more about its leading man than it does about its subject.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some strong language and a scene of sensuality
Running time: 121 mins.
|© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.