Film — Beyond The Sea (PG-13)

Beyond The Sea (PG-13)

by Amy Diaz

Kevin Spacey fulfills a childhood desire to play dressup as the coolest cat who ever splish-splashed his way to fame in Beyond the Sea, a Bobby Darin biopic.

At about 10 years old, I probably would have liked to star in a biopic about Madonna. I’d have called it Lucky Star or something and dressed up in the height of mid-’80s dance club fashion and bounced around doing an awkward routine to “Like a Virgin.” (And — due to the somewhat timid and static nature of those early Madonna videos — my 10-year-old pretendings would not have been all that far off.) I’m pretty sure that, at 10, I would have thought such an endeavor was the zenith of cool. And, if the money was right and I could dance any better now than I did when I was 10 (actually, I think my sense of rhythm has deteriorated), I’d probably revive my childhood dress-up fantasy and bring it to the big screen (or, at least, the TV screen). If I were an actor of some kind. Biopics on people that only the starring actor are really interested in are, like private jets and summer homes in foreign countries, a self-indulgence that a certain level of fame and fortune allows. You get to play dress-up, you get to lip-sync (or in the case of Kevin Spacey, cover) your favorite artist’s songs, you get to go on interviews where you can talk about how great and underappreciated your favorite singer was. And you get a sense of satisfaction knowing that you’ve made the 10-year-old you very happy and proud.

Yes, it’s good to be a successful actor.

Beyond the Sea shares a lot in common with another biopic released in 2004, De-Lovely. Just like the Cole Porter life story, Beyond the Sea is shot in meta-vision — Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin talks to William Ulrich (the young Peter of Finding Neverland) as a 7-year-old Bobby Darin as they shoot a movie about Bobby Darin’s life. Just like with the Porter story, this conceit allow for the older actor to player a younger performer and allows for plenty of all-singing, all-dancing musical numbers that show off the star’s hits without turning the movie, strictly speaking, into a Chicago-like musical.

This is all by way of saying that the movie isn’t all that great — Ray is really the exception, not the rule — and the style is more musical dinner-theater than gritty biography but Spacey clearly is having the time of his life. And sometimes, watching an actor have an unself-conscious good time is enough to at least carry you through the movie. Plus, I really like the song “That’s All.”

Darin’s tale, while half-baked, is a good one. Sick from rheumatic fever as a kid, Darin isn’t supposed to live past 15. But his mother (Brenda Blethyn), a former stage performer, introduces him to the piano, to dance and to the idea that show business is the path to a happy, successful, mark-leaving life. Darin starts off with the early rock-ish “Splish Splash” and then heads for Frank Sinatra territory — the place his mom really wants him to go — with “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea.” He gains considerable success with both and even does some movies, where he meets wife Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). He is nominated for but doesn’t win an Oscar and makes plenty of money as an act in Vegas and at other places on the road. But “plenty of money” and “some success” seem to be the ceilings to Darin’s career, which takes something of a nose-dive in the late 1960s. An attempt at folk music is more curiosity than comeback and, though the movie puts the very best possible face on it, Darin dies at 37, only about half-fulfilled by his achievement.

Still, “Mack the Knife,” is a pretty good tune.

There is a lot of weirdness in Beyond the Sea, most of which comes from Spacey’s fanatical devotion to a guy who was ultimately sort of a B-list star. Darin was a good, electric singer — but he was no Frank Sinatra. He was a competent actor — but the 1950s and 1960s saw far better. He was, for a guy who was supposed to be dead at 15, a considerable success with a respectable legacy at his death at 37. But there is no triumphant third act; he doesn’t change the course of history or music. He was a good pop singer but Spacey wants to make him a great man.

This struggle is as evident in the choppy, occasionally blurred story (Spacey more or less leaves out a divorce and a second marriage) as the struggle to explain Spacey’s considerable age is. Spacey, 45, doesn’t entirely fit into scenes of Darin’s younger years — especially one particularly awkward bedroom scene with Bosworth. Like the movie’s insistence on Darin’s brilliance, more than a few elements of the film feel rather forced.

- Amy Diaz

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