Title: Beyond the sea
Genre: Biography, Drama, Music
Play time: 1h 58min
Director: Kevin Spacey
Screenwriters: Kevin Spacey, Lewis Colick
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman
I guess I can’t fault Kevin Spacey for thinking he could play Bobby Darin despite being seven years older than than Darin was when he died. When you have the clout to be the entire creative force behind a major Hollywood production, it’s a natural extension to think you could get away with an outrageous impersonation that poses as acting. Beyond the Sea is an ego boost, an empty shell of a movie that offers nothing except for the curiosity of its central performance. Of the string of biopics we’ve been hit with in this last quarter of 2004, it is by far the weakest.
Of some interest, however minor, are Kevin Spacey’s musical performances, which are numerous and generally superb in quality. He sounds like Bobby Darin, all right, and his renditions of hits like “Mack the Knife” are clean and faithful. Nice job, Kevin; I didn’t know you could sing. Guess you showed us.
The aspects of the film’s failure not brought about by Spacey are mostly the responsibility of screenwriter Lewis Colick (October Sky), whose work is uniformly flattering, one-dimensional, and devoid of insight. There does not seem to be so much as an attempt to understand this man, to bestow him with something beyond empty adjectives like “ambitious,” “persistent” and “terminally ill.” Yes, he gets angry and upset, and lashes out sometimes, but these are tricks of the screenplay, cynical attempts to create drama; no one bothers with depth or motivation.
Reading interviews with Spacey about Beyond the Sea, you read things like “Bobby Darin was a guy who sang his guts out, did impressions, danced, played the drums, the guitar, the harmonica, the piano,” and also mentions of Darin’s “lust for life.” It becomes clear that the movie is not an attempt to create a character on the screen but to transfer certain qualities of a real-life figure onto an actor and let him loose. His relationships with others are sacrificed — the famous love story between Darin and Sandra Dee becomes an abbreviated storybook courtship followed by a formulaic celebrity biopic marriage, wherein he wants to go on tour, she wants him to stay home with their baby, they fight, but she stays with him anyway. It happens so often.
Much stranger is Darin’s relationship with Nina Cassotto Maffia (Caroline Aaron) who (SPOILER AHOY!) pretends to be his older sister despite actually being his mother. There is inevitably a tearful confession to this effect, and the obligatory scene where Darin gets angry and starts sweeping things off counters. Fine, but their eventual reconciliation is absolutely inexplicable — I understand that it was supposed to happen, but doesn’t the movie owe us some sort of justification? Something to suggest that these people aren’t mere screenplay pawns? Anything at all?
Beyond the Sea manages to get some raw momentum going in its penultimate sequence, when a suddenly dead serious Darin manages to get an audience to join him in a rendition of “Simple Song of Freedom.” It solves none of the film’s existing problems, but at least has a modicum of visceral force, and comes up with a compelling image in Spacey alone in the middle of a huge stage and in front of a rapt crowd of people. Just then, though, the movie launches into its interminable final musical sequence, and all is lost. Its purportedly clever structure — essentially ripping off De-Lovely — blows up in its face, and Beyond the Sea reclaims its place in the pantheon of shallow, smug, sycophantic biopic disasters.