Review: ‘Beyond the Sea’

How can Kevin Spacey be too old to play Bobby Darin if Bobby’s dead? Just wondering.

Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey, also directing) reflects on his life from poor kid with only a few years to live to Grammy winner and Oscar(tm) nominee in Hollywood. Along the way are his triumphs, his failures, a lot of self-discovery, and, of course, his music. In a production that frequently goes over the top, does it really answer the question, “Who was Bobby Darin?”

What can you say about an Oscar(tm)-winning actor presenting and portraying the life of a true crooner of a forgotten musical generation? Two words come to mind: great job! When Pixar’s Finding Nemo remade Bobby Darin’s classic “Beyond the Sea” (with Robbie Williams singing), a whole generation was exposed to the lost finger-snapping cool tunes late of the big band era. Unfortunately, the small and typically higher-class venues that celebrated that sound gave way to stadium seating and more accessible arenas, something the film also touches on as it recaps Darin’s life.

Back to the question of age. Early on in the film, the script splits the narrative with Spacey as an older Darin while speaking with Darin as a young child, presenting two views of the beginning and end of his story. The gamble works, allowing Spacey to portray Darin at any adult age without resorting to recasting or other theatrical tricks as well as a few embellishments and dance numbers. And why not? It is HIS story he’s telling, so why can’t he remember it the way he wants? Kevin Spacey knows his material and pours himself into Darin’s mold and mannerisms, even singing the entire soundtrack and modeling for album covers with Spacey as Darin.

Fans of Spacey or Darin should enjoy the film, but what about everybody else? How compelling is the story of winning the hand of actress Sandra Dee (portrayed by Kate Bosworth) and rediscovering yourself when the nation goes to war with protest songs? It all depends on how much you’re will to go with it, and if the music lures you in, you can’t help but wonder about where and who it came from. This is the anti-blockbuster, the slow-burning film that tries to be as cool as the man it’s about, and it mostly succeeds. Beyond the Sea is both tribute and obsession, and Kevin Spacey has plenty to pat himself on the back for in bringing it into the open.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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