Beyond the Sea
Two major segments of the entertainment industry have always been joined together, music and movies. It appears almost natural for a popular singer to want to become an actor. While current headlines are full of modern examples of this, Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears being just two examples, this is not just a current trend. ‘Beyond the Sea’ looks at the life of a music icon of the fifties and sixties, Bobby Darin, From his first hit ‘Splish Splash’ through such classics as Beyond the Sea, Dream Lover and his iconic Mack the Knife, his music enthralled a generation. In this biographical film Darrin is played to a tee by the talented Kevin Spacey who also co-wrote and directed the film. Darrin was a sickly boy, suffering from a heart condition due to a bout with rheumatic fever when he was seven. In his short life, having died at the age of 37, this man experienced drastic swings in his career from pop icon status, through an Oscar nomination and eventually a Las Vegas lounge act. Through it all his heart problems had an impact, in his youth he was over protected by his mother Polly (Brenda Blethyn), never really prepared for the stress and demands his fame would bring. As his fame grew so did the number of people hanging on his coat tails, including his musical director Dick Behrke (Peter Cincotti) and his manager Steve Bluaner (John Goodman), a man who saw riches in this young man’s talent.
One of the significant turning points in Darin’s life was during the filming of ‘Come September’ in Rome where he met the young singer Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) a beautiful 18 year old that completely captivated Darin. The two seem to instantly fall in love and marry. For those old enough to remember these events there is a parallel between this couple and the modern pop culture pairs such as the infamous ‘Bennifer’ and the ever present media sensation Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. While the media showed a happy couple life quickly became difficult for the two stars. Dee started drinking and Darin appeared to feel that life owed him far more than he was receiving. When Darin lost out to Melvin Douglas for the 1964 best Supporting Oscar, Darin goes wild, throwing a tantrum any diva today would be proud of. This was coupled with Darin trying to reinvent himself as a politically oriented singer trying to get in on the trend of protest singers and folk song artist that the mid sixties embraced. Darin would try to merge this new musical direction with his old singing folk songs accompanied by a full chorus and orchestra, almost setting himself up for failure with his hubris. In the end Darin finally lost his life long battle with his heart, never achieving the come back he so desired.
Many critics have denounced this film as a mere ego project for Kevin Spacey but after all is said and done his love for this film shows through. Spacey is a multitalented entertainer who is as comfortable doing stand up or impressions as he is tackling incredibly complex roles such as his incredible performance in Usual Suspects. Any one that has seen his hosting gig on Saturday Night live will realize that Spacey is brilliant with impressions, something well used here as he channels the late Darin. While the age difference between Darin and Spacey is all too noticeable, Spacey being in his mid forties, he gives his all to present his idol the best he can. Spacey really seemed to get into the numerous musical and dance numbers, throwing himself into the portrayal with gusto. With all his talent Spacey is not able to make the audience forget the age difference taking us out of the moment far too often. Kate Bosworth burst on the scene with her role in the emotional ‘Horse Whisper’ and after her flesh baring character in ‘Blue Crush’ has been taking on increasing difficult roles such as the lamented ‘Wonderland’. Here she is perfect for the part of teen idol Sandra Dee. Bosworth has the fresh, clean look of Dee and embodies her completely. In the scenes where Bosworth has to depict the downward spiral of the young actress the audience is drawn in by the talent of this attractive actress. Unfortunately, some of the ancillary cast does not faire so well. Greta Scacchi is completely wasted as Dee’s over baring stage mother. She doesn’t really give a performance as much as she just presents a cartoon of the prototypical stage mother. Her talent was wasted in this role. William Ullrich makes his screen debut as the younger Darin and while he is believable much of his screen time is overshadowed by the older Darin.
This is not the first time Kevin Spacey has sat in the director’s chair; there is the lamented Albino Alligator. This is the first high profile film and while he tries his best here the direction just misses the mark. As with his acting in this film you can tell that this is a project borne of love for Spacey. He tries to present the life of Darin in a similar fashion to the Bob Fosse biography, All That Jazz, but unfortunately, Darin was not as interesting a person as Fosse. There is a little irony here since Darin always hoped to displace Frank Sinatra as a singer turned actor but never could muster the momentum or ability. Spacey is a great talent and with a little more time in the edit room and attention to pacing I look forward to the next film he directs.
Lion’s Gate gives their usual excellence in the presentation of this film on DVD. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is superb, not a single defect is to be found. The color palette is true with realistic flesh tones and excellent contrast. There are no edge artifacts and each scene is well framed. The Dolby 5.1 audio is a true treat, especially during the musical numbers. It is great to hear some of these sounds in full, dynamic audio. The commentary track features Spacey who goes into detail about the trials and tribulations in bringing this film to the screen. It has been a project he as longed dreamt about and his enthusiasm shows in every comment. Added on is a typical making of featurette that gives a little insight into the production. While far from a realistic bio-pic the film has merit and for fans of either Spacey or Darin worth having.