There is no doubt about it, Kevin Spacey adores Bobby Darin. He spent years pushing to get this biopic, BEYOND THE SEA, about the singer made, directing, starring, and co-writing the finished product. The problem is that Spacey is so wrapped up in his hero worship that the audience is left in the cold. Instead of getting caught up in the turbulent life of the cool singer with a hot head and a weak heart, we get an examination of the depths of Spaceys hero worship. There is never a moment that we see anything but Spacey having the time of his life playacting at being Bobby Darin, and there is, alas, never a moment when we can care about it. There is simply no room for us in Spaceys dream come true.
Its not the age problem. Darin was 37 when he died of heart problems resulting from a childhood bout of rheumatic fever, Spacey is almost a decade older than that. The film opens with Darin in one of the films fantasy sequences, starring in a film of his life story, which gives Spacey the filmmaker the chance to have a character in the film tell him as Darin that hes too old to be playing himself. Were all in on the joke with a wink and a nod and could go on from there with the Darin-esque nose and droopy eyelids, despite no attempts being made with either lighting or makeup to take the crags off Spaceys face while hes playing Darin when hes barely out of his teens. From there its Spacey hitting the high points of Darins life. Bobby gets rheumatic fever, Bobbys mother (Brenda Blethyn), the ex-vaudevillian teaches him music and showmanship, Bobby gets his big break, Bobby pushes for the bigger break, Bobby woos and wins Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth doing a worthy impersonation), Bobby insists on having a black comedian open for him at the Copacabana when such things were not done, Bobby gets political, Bobby has heart surgery, and so forth and so on. Its all tied together with those fantasy sequences involving grown-up Bobby talking to little boy Bobby that neither illuminate, nor amplifies, nor comment on the action in a meaningful way, coming off as a flashy trick inserted for its own sake.
The straight drama fares little better. A pivotal moment in which a major revelation knocks Darin off kilter, and which should have been an emotional crescendo, plays overlong. The character on screen takes so long to finally verbalize the information and telegraphing it so clearly from the get-go, that the chance for any impact on the audience has long since evaporated. What were probably tender moments between Darin and Dee play so kitschily that I actually had to look away.
On the plus side, Spacey looks very good in the slick sharkskin suits that decorated the 1950s and early 60s, and the tuxes Darin donned to perform in night clubs. Hes also a darned fine singer and a credible dancer, which explains why there are so many sequences where people in the street or outdoor cafés break into a production number during the narrative. It makes for a nice soundtrack and the photo on it, but nothing else.
My friend Daisy, who often accompanies me to screenings and has an astute way of summing films opined as we shuffled out of the theater how its a shame that this is how a generation of movie-goers will think of Bobby Darin. I couldnt have put it better.