Beyond the Sea (2004)
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That having been said, I can tell you that I was profoundly affected by Beyond The Sea. Spacey lives up to his surname in spades with this project, by tossing out all the 'normal' bio-pic story-telling tools, instead resorting to a spaced-out show biz fantasy-type structure which does work because Bobby himself did use his career as an antidote against the reality of his ever-failing health and inevitable early death - his overwhelming drive and beyond-intense focus stemmed from the fact that he knew he had only so much time to do anything with his life; this is what made him so great on stage, and this immediacy and strength of purpose is conveyed brilliantly in the movie not through the usual talking and explaining sequences but rather through Darin's actions. So the liberties that Spacey takes with Bobby's life pay off - the song-and-dance numbers and the plot devices (the best one being Darin's younger self having a simultaneous part in the proceedings with the older Darin).
So much has been written about Spacey being too old to play Bobby, how Spacey shouldn't have actually sung the songs himself, how this is a vanity project on Spacey's part, blah blah blah. All untrue.
The clever way in which he stages the film acknowledges the fact that he knows he's chronologically older than the perfect age to play this part, and he sings the songs himself because he CAN - his voice is more than serviceable; in fact when I saw the trailer for the first time a few months back and heard him singing Mack The Knife I was in the theatre telling the person I'd come with "That's Bobby, that can't possibly be Kevin Spacey" - this from a person who has listened to Darin's recording of that song literally hundreds and hundreds of times.
The thing that is most interesting about the negative criticism is the one about this being a vanity project for Spacey; his desire and enthusiasm to share his feeling for Darin via this project is being interpreted as an ego trip, when in reality it's an unabashed and pure labor of love. The film is being misunderstood by a lot of people, and I see this as being unbelievably ironic and, ultimately, proof that the film works because Darin himself was constantly misunderstood, constantly having his hell-bent-for-leather, no-time-to-waste desperation perceived as arrogance. So Spacey succeeded on that level alone.
It also doesn't hurt that from the back, he manages to bear an uncanny resemblance to Bobby, he captures the physicality perfectly, and in all the shots that are not too close up, you'd swear it was Bobby that you were seeing and not Spacey. It's only in the close-ups that I was reminded it wasn't actually Bobby on the screen, and in the later scenes, when he becomes politically aware, grows the mustache and bills himself as Bob Darin, Spacey looks like him even in the close-ups.
By the end of the film, I found myself feeling profoundly moved by what I was experiencing, even though, oddly enough, I didn't feel up to that point that the film was particularly profound, and so my reaction was very surprising to me. There's a scene where -=- POSSIBLE SPOILER -=- Darin is in his hospital bed right before he dies and Sandra Dee (who was no longer with him at that time but still loved him) is in the bed cuddled up beside him - that image was, to me, by far the single most powerful one in the movie, and it has stayed with me, long after the movie's final credits. -=-END OF POSSIBLE SPOILER
I want to include this: the person I saw the film with hadn't been a fan of Bobby's the way I had for years, and I asked her after we'd left the theatre if she'd felt moved by what she'd experienced - I was trying to get a more objective idea how the movie would play to someone who wasn't so emotionally connected to the material. She said that after seeing it, she wanted to know more about Bobby, how she'd had no idea what he'd gone through in his life and how she felt tremendous compassion and respect for him.
Spacey has said that his motivation in doing the movie was to remind people who hardly remembered him what a monumental talent Bobby Darin was, and to hopefully introduce a new generation to the man. I think he's succeeded on that level too, at least with people who go to see this movie with an open mind and a receptive heart.
But then Spacey is the director, so he has to be responsible for miscasting (or put another way, why didn't he do this 10 years ago when no one on this planet could have denied that he is the perfect Darin?). As John Irving said in "My Movie Business" about the choice of actors, "Looks do count." Although others have criticized Beyond the Sea as a Spacey vanity project, I found his performance believable and engaging with style appropriate to the best lounge singers of the time (Sinatra included) and spot-on perfect for Darin, if not better than the original. I've heard Spacey is touring with his band to promote this biopic; I'd go just to enjoy Spacey as a gifted singer.
The only moments to get past the many Darin songs and into his life are those centering on the influence of his "mother" (Brenda Blethyn, "Secrets and Lies") and his marriage to Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). In the former, Blethyn does a bit of singing and dancing to show that Spacey is not the only multi-talent on the set. In the latter, the pop- culture lite of their romance is handled believably, as one might try to do David Beckham and his spicey love, a marriage just a vacuous and emblematic as the Darins'.
The irony of Sandra's mother wanting her to go after Rock Hudson rather than Darin brings laughter, intended for sure, as the audience is aware of Spacey's contending with rumors about being gay. Even jokes about Darin's toupee resonate with Spacey's own rugs in real life and for this part. Spacey doesn't take himself as seriously as critics do (witness an early scene where in the framing device of Darin filming his own life, he is accused of being too old to play himself).
The conjunction of subject and biographer is challenging at best. Paul Murray Kendall in "The Art of Biography" says, "On the trail of another man, the biographer must put up with finding himself at every turn: any biography uneasily shelters an autobiography within it." In that sense, Beyond the Sea is as much about Kevin Spacey as it is Bonny Darin.
This biopic ranks third next to Ray and De-Lovely; in another less-full year, it would be the best.
As we dive face first into the facts about the real Bobby Darin, one can appreciate the inner strength he possessed to stare down death (in the form of rheumatic fever) and prove every doctor who diagnosed him with a hopeless prognosis, wrong. Combined with the drive and emotional dexterity it took to deliver a fresh face in a dying breed of crooning, and turn it into success. These two factual tidbits of information, is legitimate reason to create a film regarding the aforementioned. Combined, with the talents of acting debonair-es, like Spacey, Hoskins, and Goodman; intertwined with Kevin's uncanny ability, at certain times, to take the directorial reigns; this film had the initial potential to compare itself to the likes of "Ray", and "Walk the Line".
Unfortunately for everyone involved, this movie falls completely flat on a number of levels.
First of all, there is a distinct difference in performing your characters songs during times when your character would actually have performed them (I.E. during a live show), and singing your character's songs, in hopes to help tell the story. "Beyond the Sea" chooses the latter, and for no reason whatsoever, spontaneously breaks out into song and dance whenever Spacey feels the need to kill about 10 minutes. I would have understood the logic behind this approach, if Spacey opted to title this film "Beyond the Sea.....THE MUSICAL"! That would have at least justified his actions. However, as it stands, the movie passes through different phases of Darin's life with unexplainable, frequent interruptions of sonic cheese and corny choreography. Is this how the real Bobby Darin lead his life? While spending years of his childhood, on the brink of death, only to lapse every now and then into an uncontrollable urge to arise from his bed, and whimsically prance in unison with his family, and neighborhood yokels? I think not.
Secondly, Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee, is a perfect example of how an inappropriate casting decision leads to disaster. Just picturing her slowly warming up to erotic affection with a man, literally old enough to be her father, is absolutely grotesque. Watching these two falling in love can concisely be compared to accidentally discovering your 40 year old next door neighbor is having intercourse with your teenage daughter....Yes, it's that disgusting. Not to mention the fact, that Bosworth's acting capabilities are simply not honed enough to capture the fiery personality that the real Sandra Dee possessed. To put it bluntly, it's a sure fire miss....A distinct error by the casting department, and by Kevin Spacey.
In conclusion, there isn't any question that Kevin Spacey is a true fan of Bobby Darin, some may even applaud his efforts to tell his story using this decisively different approach. But when it comes down to it, the only thing redeeming about this picture, is a few brief moments of comic relief from Goodman, and the ever-present fact that Bosworth is easy on the eyes. (Even with a beehive hairdo) Other than that, I truly hope the written critique I have given is enough to at least warn you about what you're getting yourself into if you decide to invest 2 hours of your life to watch this bloated-mess-of-a-film. I mean that with utmost sincerity.
I read critics who said Kevin Spacey is too old to pull off a 20-something Bobby Darin. Wrong! Kevin Spacey's acting captures the essence of BD; after the first ten minutes of the movie it seemed that Kevin Spacey WAS Bobby Darin irrespective of age. I also read critics who said Spacey's dancing was stiff and awkward. Wrong! The production numbers were fabulous. His singing, acting, dancing were awesome, and it's a performance that should not be short-changed in this year's awards' season (although I fear it might be overlooked).
Kate Blodgett, too, did a great job of portraying Sandra Dee (but I wish they had kept her hairstyles more true to Sandra Dee of the 1960's).
My only disappointment is that so many important details about Bobby Darin's life were quickly glossed over or totally omitted. For example, there was no mention of his early years in the Pocono's; his unfulfilled romance with Connie Francis; his friendship with Dick Clark; his songwriting collaboration with Don Kirshner; and his subsequent marriage after divorcing Sandra Dee.
Nevertheless, I loved "Beyond the Sea" and plan to see it again this week. I'm afraid it won't still be in the theaters next week. It almost appears as though some of Hollywood and the newsprint critics have dissed it with almost a jealousy toward Kevin Spacey's Herculean efforts to bring this to the screen, not to mention his compelling performance.
I don't know if it will attract a younger viewing audience; but, if you're a Baby Boomer, this is a must-see.
I've been a swing/jazz fan for a long time, and I'm being hit my minor anxiety attacks when artists like Robbie Williams and recently Westlife decide to do "a swing thing" and miss the whole point about the genre. Those who call Robbie Williams a crooner know just about as much about the genre as he does. So when I heard about Kevin Spacey's project a couple of years ago, I was automatically skeptical. By then I'd already heard him sing "That Old Black Magic" from the Clint Eastwood production "Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil" (1997) and he had a good voice, but performed the song like a pop song. Something the above mentioned artists also have a tendency to do.
Kevin showed up at the Michael Parkinson show last month to promote the movie, and announced he'd also be singing two songs: "Beyond The Sea" and "Mack The Knife" with a live orchestra. I was nervous. Up until the point where he started singing, that was. He's spent the last 12 years making this project perfect, and has received blessings from both Sandra Dee and her son with Bobby, Dodd.
Beyond The Sea - the movie: It all kicks off when Bobby Darin (Spacey) enters the stage and sings "Mack The Knife". If you've had any preconceptions of his ability to sing or perform, this will disappear before he's reached "...pearly white..." He nearly performs the whole song, but interrupts and a director shouts "cut". In the break a journalist shouts "isn't he too old to play this role?!" after him, upon where his manager sneers, "Don't listen to him, Bobby. How can you be too old to play yourself?" It appears we're on the set of the movie where Bobby Darin plays himself. Which makes it okay that he doesn't look 20 in the early scenes.
Not far into the movie he meets Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) on the set of the Rock Hudson movie "Come September" in 1961, and a romance blossoms. A bit of back and forth later, particularly with Sandra's mother, they become a couple and marry within two months. The fact that they hardly know each other adds up to certain problems, but even though they fight like cat and dog at points, there's always the underlying affection for each other. You get the feeling that it's the ultimate romance.
It's eventually this turbulent - but heartwarming - love affair and Bobby's performances where the focus of the movie lies, with a glimpse into his political phase during the Vietnam war when he lived in the middle of nowhere on his own. This bred the song "Simple Song Of Freedom" and an attempt at a comeback with a new image. We follow him all the way up to his last performance and an alternative ending that's very, well, swing.
The Soundtrack: Not only is the movie a work of art, Kevin shows an almost unbelievable talent for the genre. He's been taking singing lessons since the late 90's, and has studies every little detail in Bobby Darin's voice and being, most on and off stage. Everything looks and sounds right.
Kevin's vibrato is perfect. Smooth, subtle and last but not least... it's done properly. Some singers don't have a clue how to do a proper vibrato and sound like they've got something stuck in their throat when attempting one, but Kevin does it brilliantly. His phrasing is also spot-on, and he's got a lung-capacity that even professional singers can envy him. Bobby Darin went through different stages, from swing to light country, and Spacey says he's spent years with Darin songs on his iPod and kept hotel guests awake at night, singing his songs. Just to get it right.
He's done everything and then some to make everything sound as perfect as possible and succeeded. The orchestra also sounds amazing, and it's wonderful to hear real instruments on a 2004 album. He recorded all songs at the Abbey Road Studios - where the Beatles put down 172 songs - with the legendary Phil Ramone producing.
Conclusion: Kevin Spacey once said that 'the less you know about me as a person, the easier it is to believe I am that person on the screen' and he's right. I don't know anything about him and I don't want to know, because when I watch "Beyond The Sea" it's not Kevin Spacey I see - but Bobby Darin.
Those who complain that he was told old to play the part are nitpicking. I am not a personal fan of Spacey. Off-screen, I think he's a jerk. However, the criticism of him here is simply unfair. The man did an incredible job imitating Darin - period. Who could have done better?
Kate Bosworth is also very good as "Sandra Dee," the actress who married Darin. She comes across as a very positive and nice person, a lot more than Darin whose problems are shown as well as his good points. He is not always a good guy.
The language is a little rougher than I'd like to see this in this music-biography. The bits with the kid were annoying, not profound as they were obviously trying to be. In fact, the film would have ended perfectly without that last 4-5 minute scene with the child.
This biopic of Bobby Darin splits cleanly into two modes. In the first, Kevin Spacey does highly watchable singing and dancing routines. In the second, he portrays a rheumatic singer who defied doctors and male-pattern baldness to become a star.
Although the film flicks back and forth between the two modes, they never gel as one seamless story, which is a problem for a biopic of a man whose life contained only a handful of interesting events.
It doesn't help that Spacey's Darin interrupts the plot every so often by stepping back from the narrative and discussing the film with his younger self. It is a device that does little more than remind you that you are watching a film - a fact that is never far from your thoughts anyway because of the large number of somewhat contrived dance numbers.
Nor are the biographical sections very convincing. It is clear well before the extensive pre-credits disclaimer that the director has taken some diabolical liberties with Darin's life, making you wonder what you have learnt from the film. Did Darin really take his name from a half lit neon "Mandarin" sign outside a Chinese restaurant? Did he really die after a successful comeback gig in Las Vegas, or was that just a narrative invention to end on a high note?
The upshot is a film that is more a celebration of Kevin Spacey's impression of a world-renowned entertainer than a celebration of the entertainer himself.
It is a tribute to Spacey's talent as an actor that the film remains likable, not least because he doesn't have the polish of an accomplished director. Too many scenes feel as though he was too shy to make his fellow cast members do one more take.
There is enough energy on display to allow most Darin fans forgive the film's weaknesses, but the more picky viewer will feel slightly disappointed.
Owing some stylish influence to Fosse's "All That Jazz" and even Coppola's "One From the Heart", "Beyond the Sea" shows off Spacey's strong grasp of cinematic story telling moving between surrealism and reality, and his even stronger vocalizing ability in sounding about as close to Darin as you could expect. He moves, he struts and there are moments when he quietly strikes an uncanny pose that looks just like some of those famous record covers. What Spacey can't escape is that at forty five, he is eight years older than when Darin died. Because we are so familiar with Darin's face the difference is noticeable. For some, this may amount to an impossible suspension of disbelief, much in the same manner of last year's "The Human Stain", where many found it impossible to buy Anthony Hopkins as a fair skinned Negro.
This is a shame because Spacey's work is formidable and an impact is made. A life is realized and rendered effectively, often brilliantly and I was moved at the end. If nothing else, one looks forward to what Spacey does next, both in front of and behind the camera. No doubt, his production of Oedipus Rex would be spectacular.
Good scripts are built through positive and negative events, that eventually lead to a climax. This film goes virtually an hour with only a couple of negative events. His mother dies and it is sluffed off, and never dealt with. We never see any unconscious desire from Bobby Darin. His character just prances about, egotistically getting whatever he wants during the first half of this film. Good characters have a weak spot, they draw you in and create empathy or at least sympathy. This character had none of that.
There are so many clichés and obvious turns in this film, but what makes them even worse is the fact that they are never dealt with. We find out Sandra Dee has a drinking problem....Thats talked about for all of 5 seconds!! also, at one point, the story seems to be leading to the obvious tension of her being jealous of his career, but again they never bother to explore it, they just shelf the idea and move on to another positive beat regarding bobby darins' career.
To top it all off, in the middle of this boring story we have to put up with 5 different song interludes that stop the plot dead. 15 minutes of just sitting there in the theatre waiting for them to get on with it.
I cant for the life of me see how anyone could defend this film technically.
Well. The story was rather hard to follow because of the plot device used (adult Bobby keeps in touch with his younger self throughout the movie..to the point where it was impossible to know things like (SPOILER)how old was young Bobby when his mother died? We don't know for sure because both the adult Bobby and the kid Bobby were at the funeral. I know, it's supposed to be artsy. IT's not meant to be a truthful retelling of the story, just kind of an image of kind of what happened...in a roundabout way that leaves the audience going "HUH?" IF that was Spacey's intent (he directed and wrote this, I think), then he succeeded. It was all just a bit weird.
Where this film (SPOILER) really goes off the rails is its portrayal of Mr. Darin's descent into wacko war protestation as some kind of heroic time in his life instead of what it was. It seems to me that that was the low point of his life and career, yet this film would have you believe that he was triumphant in his career as a result. It just doesn't seem that way to me, and probably to most rational people.
This was a mixed bag for me. It could have been good but instead was an okay flick with some cringe inducing scenes that were painful to watch. See it if you love Bobby Darin. At least there's some nice music and you'll want to come home and listen to the real thing!
In answer to some of the standard complaints
(1) If you think Spacey is too old to play this role, you should reconsider what the film is depicting. This film is a retrospective which looks back from the latter part of Darin's career (reminiscent of his self-referential comments in The Bobby Darin Story). He is not supposed to be young. This is also one of the reasons why so much of the narrative keys on his relationship with his younger self embodied by the actor he has picked to play himself in his autobiography.
(2) If you believe Spacey can't sing.... well.... I give up. People tend to have very narrow and hardened opinions about music - regardless of how tone deaf they may be. Spacey may not bring much originality to the singing style of Bobby Darin, but, in my opinion, he pretty much nails Darin's voice and overall style.
(3) The characters are shallow? What film did you watch? OK, Darin lead a charmed existence compared to Johnny Cash and Ray Charles. After all, he never developed a serious drug addiction, nor did he have to go through a painful divorce. And he wasn't blind. The only real tragedy in Bobby's life was being diagnosed with a terminal illness in his early teens, not knowing his parents throughout most of his life, and never living up to his own standards... minor problems compared to the "deeper" ones portrayed in other "more serious" biopics? Ya whatever. Depth does not equal self-destructiveness and depression, IMO.
This film stands as a great achievement for Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth and others. The cast is excellent, and the writing and directing are superb. The music is as entertaining as the action of the narrative, and very well blended into the story. The film achieves a powerful surrealism which is very rare for biopics and has unfortunately been neglected in most contemporary musicals, as it portrays Darin's inner and outer worlds with equal weight. Although the subject matter is very very different, Beyond the Sea's musical method reminded me of the beautiful "Dancer in the Dark".
Darin's story is a story of the profound love, dedication to craft, and the desire to be the best, which allowed a dying man to miraculously prolong his time with us for decades, and way beyond his time of death.
The structure is unusual; while some may find it annoying, I find it interesting and it makes it easier to watch multiple times. It invites you into Spacey's head, and I think he's trying to put you in Darin's head. Spacey reminds us throughout that this is supposed to be the movie that Bobby Darin was making about himself, and it is easy for me to imagine that this is what a Bobby Darin autobiography would look like, as I doubt that he would have made a documentary or even a normal dramatic movie.
Thank you Kevin for making this movie. I suspect it will survive as a well respected creative endeavor, and also serves as a beautiful introduction to Darin for those who are not too familiar with him, and is an honorable tribute to him for those of us who are.
PS- I find myself wishing Kevin Spacey would hurry up and make more movies because I know his time is short. Now THAT'S typecasting!
It is admittedly a tear jerker, but what a show. The final scenes when Bobby returned to Vegas and was doing his anti war songs that had failed him before was astounding. The church choir back-up was spine chilling. Spacey played back and forth with his childhood self and it never caused a slow down in the movie. It filled in a lot of the gaps. The little kid (Ullrich) was excellent... the final song and dance scene was fantastic.
This is a must see.... truly a statement about and a tribute to Bobby Darin as ONLY Kevin Spacey could do it!
Beyond the Sea starring Kevin Spacey as the legendary vocalist Bobby Darin is a well done biopic of the singers life. His rise to stardom from life in the Bronx to his new life on the stage. Along with him are his brother in-law Charlie played by Bob Hoskins, his wife and Darin's sister Nina played by Caroline Aaron, wife Sandra Dee performed by Kate Bosworth, and John Goodman as manager "Boom Boom" Steve Blauner.
Darin struggles with a serious ailment since his childhood and continues to fight his heart problem throughout his singing career. This motivates him to live longer and pursue happiness, like Sandra Dee. No matter what the challenge, Bobby is ready to tackle it. He broke out onto the billboards with "Splish, Splash". He wanted to go onto better things...like the Copacabana.Bobby would star in 10 movies, an Oscar nomination, seven Top-10 songs, and a family all in a span of 10 years. He had it all.
Although some parts of the movie are a little strange like some of the random dance sequences, it it tied nicely together with the making of a movie and how he interacts with the memory of his childhood.
What Spacey has given us is an enjoyable film that tells a story of a man once considered to be the greatest singer in the world. Spacey's passion for Darin goes way back to his childhood when he would listen to his parents records (see making of the movie on DVD). Spacey sings every song in the picture, dances every step, directs every scene, and even writes the script with Lewis Colick (Ladder 49, October Sky). He wanted this movie to be made to honor a great entertainer and a great person.
Spacey's hard work and determination has paid off for the whole world to see. Thanks for sharing the life of an icon.