© 2005 Ray Wong
Bobby Darin was a pop star that could do it all: sing, dance, write, act, and love. Perhaps that was what attracted Kevin Spacey, himself a triple-threat, to this biopic with a touch of fantasy.
Bobby Cassotto (Spacey) is given only a few years to live after rheumatic fever weakens his heart. He’s not supposed to live past age 15. To show him that life is for the taking, his mother Polly (Blethyn), an ex-Vaudeville performer, teaches Bobby how to sing and dance and play the piano. Bobby discovers that he not only loves doing it all, he also has talent.
Beating his odds and on borrowed time, Bobby sets out to conquer the music world with a slew of close friends as his entourage. He realizes his name is too ethnic and it lacks the zing to take him places. Inspired by a burned-out restaurant sign, he changes his last name to Darin, and his career starts to take off. A teen idol at first, he has his eyes set on displacing Sinatra with popular hits such as “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea.” Soon, Hollywood comes knocking. He falls for costar Sandra Dee (Bosworth) on the set. After a persistent pursuit, he wins her heart, gains her controlling mother’s (Scacchi) approval, and they get married.
As their respective careers take off, however, trouble brews in the home front. Bobby’s ambitions take him on the road all the time, and Sandra, after the birth of their son, tries to balance between her budding film career and being a wife and mother. At the same time, Bobby’s swelling fame begins to take a toll on his relationship with his sister Nina (Aaron) and brother-in-law (Hoskins). When he loses his bid for Best Supporting actor at the Oscars, everything falls apart.
Spacey plays Darin with earnestness and compassion, even though he’s too old to play the young Bobby, who died at 37. But he sure can sing well and dance adequately. Spacey can be a phenomenal actor when he wants to be; however, this is not one of his best performances. It has too much of that “look at me and see what I can do” quality to it. Bosworth looks beautiful as Sandra, but her portrayal of the teen starlet-turn-wife and mother is somewhat thin. Though the age difference is jarring (Bobby wasn’t that much older than Sandra in real life), Spacey and Bosworth do have good chemistry together.
Goodman is fine as Bobby’s loyal manager Steve, with sincerity and a touch of brashness. Hoskins also is in great form as Bobby’s brother-in-law and confidant, and Aaron is affecting as the unrefined Nina who has a secret. Rounding out the cast is Scracchi as Sandra’s control freak mother, and the delightful Blethyn as Polly Cassotto.
Writer-direct-actor Spacey seems to think that he’s born to play Bobby Darin. The film looks and feels like a labor of love, but self-indulgent. Part of the problem is that in telling the story posthumously, the script often breaks away to remind us: “Hey, this is not real. But memories are like moonbeams; you can do whatever you want with it.” The young Bobby pops up now and then to remind us that Darin is reconciling his life with his younger self. The “this is your life” style of storytelling works very well with films such as DE-LOVELY (the Cole Porter biopic), but falls short in BEYOND THE SEA.
The production looks rich enough, but there’s a nagging “TV movie” feel to it. Spacey’s direction is straightforward, thus boring, although the song and dance numbers are nice. The problem with the film is rather fundamental: Bobby Darin’s life simply isn’t all that exciting. The conflicts and dilemmas seem trivial, and once the film hits its stride midway, it falters endlessly toward the end. By the last musical number, the audience might have gone beyond bored.
Stars: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi, Caroline Aaron
Director: Kevin Spacey
Writers: Kevin Spacey, Lewis Colick
Distributor: Lions Gate
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for strong language, sensuality
Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total Score – 6.2 of 10