Dilemma: What do you do when one of your favourite performers is starring in a film about a subject you don’t like? Do you shell out the money to go see it in the theatres? Nope you wait for it to come out on DVD and your wife to bring it home to watch one night.
I’ve never liked the music of Bobby Darin; I found it insipid and tiresome. Anybody who could turn a song like “Mack The Knife” into a cocktail lounge hit deserves to be run out of town on a rail and tarred and feathered as far as I was concerned. Bobby Darin was just another Pat Boone “whiting” up radical music for the mainstream.
But Beyond The Sea was written, directed and starred in by Kate Bosworth) and son in his relentless drive to perform and be a star. The world revolves around him and everyone else are simply satellites who are lucky enough to orbit around him.
Instead of this being just a straight bio-picture Spacey has created a surrealistic movie within a movie that dodges in and out of reality. With Darin’s younger self from both the movie that Darin is making about his life and the actor playing the young Bobby Darin in Spacey’s movie acting as go between, we re-visit Darin’s past.
Throughout Beyond The Sea young Bobby (William Ullrich) shows up to pull his adult self back into the reality of who he is and where he came from. We see that as a child Bobby suffered from Rheumatic Fever that could have, and should have, killed him.
He becomes convinced that all that keeps him alive is his desire to perform and be a star. But when a secret from his childhood is revealed to him, he begins to doubt the validity of what he had become. Already he has seen the world of music pass him by; in the sixties popular music wasn’t that interested in nightclub acts.
He had already stopped performing and gone to work for Bobby Kennedy in 1968, when he was shocked out of his dream world. He leaves it behind and goes into seclusion where he writes “Simple Song Of Freedom”. After the death of Bobby Kennedy he attempts a come back at the place of his dreams, The Cococabaña Club, and gets booed off stage for not performing in the same manner that he once did.
Of course he has his triumphant return to Las Vegas in the end. Taking the advice offered by Sandra that people only hear what they see, i.e. image is everything, he does a big arrangement number of “Simple Song Of Freedom” complete with gospel choir, and the crowd loves him.
Yeah, I know the whole thing sounds clichéd; big star makes comeback then dies a short time latter, but don’t worry he will live forever because of his music. But Spacey makes it work somehow or other.
For one thing the cast is great, from the small roles on up to the leads. John Goodman, and Bob Hoskins take the larger of the supporting roles and, especially Goodman, give one of their better performances in years. William Ullrich as the young Bobby Darin has the right amount of self assuredness to not look out of place on screen with Kevin Spacey and makes a remarkable début in this movie.
Kate Boswell is perfect as Sandra Dee and even manages to give her some depth and character, which considering who she’s playing is remarkable. She manages to capture the confusion and self-doubts of an actor who knows that she only works because of her looks, and is realistic enough to know that they can’t last forever.
Spacey is Spacey. Brilliant as ever, he shows off talents that not many of us knew he had before. He does all of his own singing, and dancing and manages to be convincing at both. His characterization of Darin is part impersonation and part interpretation; using some of Darin’s mannerisms as his building blocks he constructs a character who is believable and probably faithful to the man he is immortalizing.
As the latest in the line up of triple threat (quadruple threat if you include his producer credit) movie types, Spacey is the best of the bunch so far. His acting hasn’t suffered from him being behind the camera as well as in front; he elicits strong performances from all his cast, and his script manages to avoid floundering upon the clichés inherit in this type of story.
The question of whether a performer of Bobby Darin’s quality deserves this type of treatment becomes moot. In some ways who the movie is about is irrelevant, what ends up being important is that it’s a movie that’s well worth watching. Kevin Spacey’s talent and integrity allows the media to ascend above the subject matter.
Since someone like me, who can’t stand the music of Bobby Darin, loved this movie, I can only imagine what fans of the man would think. If there were any doubts about the abilities of Kevin Spacey before now, this should put them to rest forever.