Beyond the Sea, Starring Kevin Spacey

Beyond the Sea

(Lions Gate)

First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2005, Volume 12, #7

Written by John Metzger


The biopic is a well-worn Hollywood tradition, and as such, it has become a rather formulaic, if reliable, enterprise. Suffice it to say, in bringing the story of Bobby Darin to the big screen, Kevin Spacey — who, in addition to portraying Darin also directed, produced, and co-wrote the film — attempted to shatter the usual array of clichés by transforming the rags-to-riches tale into a larger-than-life theatrical production that is full of fantasy sequences and over-the-top dance numbers. Yet, in the end, what could have been viewed as pure pomposity essentially becomes an endearing glimpse into the life of a star whose meteoric rise belies the fact that over 30 years after his untimely death, he now is underrated and frequently forgotten.

Born Walden Robert Cassotto, Darin suffered a severe bout of rheumatic fever as a child that left him with a heart condition. Although he wasn’t expected to live past his 15th birthday, his obsession with music and fame kept him aloft until he died at the age of 37 in 1973. Following the arc of Darin’s career from teen sensation to supper club act to movie star to anti-war folk singer, Spacey takes as many gutsy risks as his idol did, all in the belief that if one works hard enough, dreams can come true. There’s no question that Beyond the Sea was a movie that Spacey had wanted to make for quite some time, and his love for Darin’s music as well as his admiration for Darin himself radiates with luminescence throughout the film.

By employing a plot device that permits the elder Darin to converse with his younger self, Spacey subverts the inevitable criticism that he is, perhaps, too old for the role. As a result, the rest of the picture flows naturally from this initially puzzling encounter. However, the biggest surprise of Beyond the Sea is that Spacey not only can carry a tune, but he also has a vocal timbre that bears an uncanny resemblance to Darin. Within the broad spectrum of surround sound, the songs explode — particularly with their brassy, big band arrangements — and as a result, the movie positively soars whenever the music becomes its primary focal point. On the other hand, as Darin becomes distracted by his acting career, his stormy marriage to Sandra Dee, and his attempt to recast himself as a folk singer, Beyond the Sea begins to falter, especially because the more Darin’s successes evaporate, the more his megalomaniacal tendencies become magnified. Yet, Spacey so relishes playing the role of Darin that it’s nearly impossible not to be captivated by his performance, and although Beyond the Sea occasionally stumbles, Spacey’s devotion to the project is enough to carry it through its bumpier moments. starstarstar ½

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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