Mixed Reviews

Howard County Times GO! Arts Movie Review BY MIKE GIULIANO 

A biopic that you’ve got to ‘Sea’ to believe  Age matters when it comes to a middle-aged actor impersonating a character who died while still a young man. The exact numbers involved are these: Kevin Spacey, 45, portrays the boyish-featured pop singer Bobby Darin, who died at age 37 in 1973, in the Spacey-directed and co-written biopic “Beyond the Sea.”

Spacey spent years trying to bring this dream project to the big screen, and it’s sad if not exactly heartbreaking that he’s so weary-looking when he passes himself off as Darin in his 20s and 30s.

The movie’s structure admittedly involves Darin late in his shortlife projecting himself back into these formative years, but it still comes off seeming like Kevin Spacey trying to recapture a young life that is, alas, long gone. It also hurts that the song-and-dance sequences reveal that Spacey, for all his devotion to his subject, isn’t exactly smooth on his feet.

If that were the sum total of “Beyond the Sea,” you would have reason to wonder why anyone should bother with what seems like a vanity project in which baby boomer Spacey pays homage to one of the 1960s Rat Pack-style cool cats he idolized in childhood.

The impressive surprise here is that not only does Spacey do all of his own singing, he sounds a lot like Darin. At the risk of giving offense to Darin’s widow, Sandra Dee, or other longtime fans, Spacey sounds even better than Darin.

Whatever combination of natural ability and studious preparation accounts for this vocal fidelity, Spacey deserves a lot of credit for his crooning. This makes “Beyond the Sea” an inherently odd viewing experience.

The movie’s mixed success goes beyond Spacey sounding right but looking wrong when he sings Darin’s 1958 career-making hit “Splish Splash.” Even more than the Ray Charles biopic “Ray,” “Beyond the Sea” nearly succumbs to genre conventions that are far older than Spacey.

The early scenes from Darin’s life demonstrate how his supportive mother (Brenda Blethyn) insisted that her pale, weak child would become a bigger star than Frank Sinatra. However true to life, such scenes play like the umpteenth variation on a stage mother driving her son to success and leaving him with the sort of psychological scars that keep psychoanalysts employed.

Darin’s on-screen partnership with and off-screen wooing of Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) again obviously is well-grounded biographically, but within the familiar pattern of tabloid celebrity journalism. Just the same, these scenes are well-staged and convey plenty of period flavor.

Musically, you get a nostalgic sense of a pop singer like Darin who came of age during the Eisenhower administration; and biographically, you get an emotional sense of how he tried with little success to adjust to the music and mood of the later 1960s.

The movie’s biographical format may be overly familiar, but Spacey’s determined performance has a way of cutting through otherwise stereotypical sequences.

One thing Spacey can’t cut through, however, is a plot device that would be hard to pull off in any biopic. As the adult Darin contemplates his life in metaphysically oriented scenes that would not be out of keeping in Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz,” he is accompanied by a child actor representing himself as a child. This hackneyed device is so contrived and recurs so often that “Beyond the Sea” really tests a viewer’s willingness to buy it.

Just when director Spacey’s creative decisions threaten to turn his vigorous picture into an actively irritating one, he’ll go into full-swagger nightclub mode and deliver knockout performances of songs like “Beyond the Sea” and “Mack the Knife.” Then everything is forgiven – or almost forgiven. Grade: B “Beyond the Sea”(PG,13) opens Dec. 29 at area theaters.

~

The Toronto Star

Kevin Spacey’s Darin do
Peter Howell Movie Critic
September 11, 2004

Early in Beyond The Sea, Kevin Spacey’s biopic of pop crooner Bobby Darin, the singer’s mother imparts an important life wisdom to her young son: “You can never go wrong with the truth.”

This is contradicted almost immediately in a fantasy exchange in which the adult Darin (played by Spacey, who also directs) justifies to his admonishing younger self (William Ullrich) the need for dramatic embellishment: “Listen kid, memories are like moonbeams. We do with them what we want.”

Therein lies the difficult dual impulse of this labour-of-love project, a festival Gala selection premiering tonight at Roy Thomson Hall: Spacey attempts to explain the Bobby Darin legend while also preserving it.

Far from a warts-and-all portrayal of one of the 20th Century’s great American performers, Beyond The Sea largely skips Darin’s genuine drama as a relentlessly ambitious club performer of the 1950s, who struggled against the rock ‘n’ roll riptide of the 1960s.

Such major career challengers as Elvis Presley and the Beatles are barely mentioned, Frank Sinatra being treated as the only shadow cast over him, forever staring down from concert posters.

We also learn only in passing about Darrin’s many hits (22 Top 40 singles from 1957 to 1967) and his musical versatility that took him from the teeny pop of “Splish Splash” to the malevolent finger-snapping of “Mack The Knife” to the earnest folk balladeering of “If I Were A Carpenter,” all before his untimely death from heart disease at age 37 in 1973.

Darin is the most unlikely of all inductees into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, but he’s deservedly in there, along with all the guitar stars who vexed him.

Instead the film pursues the more mundane approach of the proverbial poor kid from the Bronx, ignoring the obvious truth that many performers hail from humble beginnings, Sinatra included.

Darin’s back story as sickly young Walden Robert Cassotto (he took the stage name Darin from a faulty Chinese restaurant sign) is essential to the big picture, but Spacey fragments the telling by resorting to such post-modern, post-Chicago tricks as having Darin’s older self repeatedly spar with his youthful self, and by the use of dance numbers as dramatic illustrations.

But Spacey the actor bails out Spacey the director, so much so that talk of award-season recognition for his camera-loving performance is amply justified.

Spacey has been talking about his abiding love of Darin for quite some time, and he nails Darin in look, deed and buttery croon, making up for many of the film’s structural deficiencies. He also overcomes the not-significant age gap between himself and Darin — he’s 45, nine years older than his subject was at his death.

Spacey is well supported in his quest by a cast of notables: Kate Bosworth, who plays Darin’s troubled actress wife Sandra Dee; John Goodman, as Steve “Boom Boom” Blauner, the star’s hustling friend-turned manager; Bob Hoskins as protective brother-in-law Charlie; and Brenda Blethyn and Caroline Aaron as the two most important women in Darin’s life, his mother and sister. (The maternal link is also very close to Spacey: the film is dedicated to his own mom.)

In his second outing as a director, following his debut with the hostage drama Albino Alligator in 1996, Spacey can be praised for ambition but faulted for execution. His repeated use of the ghost-child metaphor and the film-within-a-film device interrupts the flow of the picture, right from the start as a great take of “Mack The Knife” is brought to a screeching halt by an untimely vision.

But it must be said that the actor/director has grown by leaps and bounds from the claustrophobia of Albino Alligator, which was filmed almost entirely in a dingy  bar.

It’s taken Spacey much time to get back behind the camera — he had an Oscar to collect in-between, plus other star turns — but he’s been working on his technique in a big way. He knows how to move the camera around, how to frame a scene for best dramatic effect and how to bring down the house with a big song-and-dance number —with the added attraction of himself doing the singing and dancing.

If he continues to make this kind of progress, his third film should be really quite something. It’s the kind of career growth and ambitious reach that Bobby Darin himself would undoubtedly feel like singing about.

~

The Seattle Times

Toronto Film Fest: Hot Foxx, lightfooted Spacey B
y Moira Macdonald Seattle Times movie critic

September 14, 2004

<snip>

“Foxx, of course, didn’t perform the music; “Ray” uses a wealth of tracks from the master himself. “Beyond the Sea,” Spacey’s Bobby Darin biopic, takes a different tack: Spacey does his own singing — and, yes, does it quite well. (And yes, to answer the other ubiquitous question, he does look a tad too old for the role.) The movie borders on schmaltz, but has many pleasures, among them: Spacey’s swinging big-band tunes, a few brief capital-M-for-Musical dance numbers, and the joy of seeing an actor who has been stuck in a deadpan groove exhibit spark, energy and lightfooted grace.”

<snip>

~

The Chicago Tribune

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL A little bit of everything

By Mark Caro Tribune entertainment reporter September 13 2004 TORONTO — Ah, the Toronto International Film Festival . . . a place where you can watch close-ups of vaginal reshaping surgery before dashing off to view Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons strolling the red carpet for a gala premiere. While Sundance champions American independent filmmakers, Cannes offers the glitziest showcase for international cinema, and Hollywood, well, is Hollywood, Toronto strives to be all of the above. The 10-day festival showcases 253 features from 60 countries, so even an attempt to skim the surface can result in a serious case of mind warp. This festival often is referred to as front-loaded, but that’s mostly the Hollywood viewpoint. Studios and distributors use the festival as a launching pad or test balloon (pick your metaphor) for their prestige fall releases, many of which have Oscar hopes. So, Toronto audiences were the first to check out some highly anticipated biopics: Kevin Spacey’s “Beyond the Sea,” about singer Bobby Darin; Taylor Hackford’s “Ray,” about singer Ray Charles; and Bill Condon’s “Kinsey,” about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. (“Kinsey” opens the Chicago International Film Festival next month.) Of the three, “Beyond the Sea” has inspired the most wildly mixed reactions. The Hollywood trade papers reportedly liked it (as I write, the reviews have yet to be posted), and Tribune movie critic Michael Wilmington was impressed. But there’s also been much shaking of heads, with one L.A.-based writer grousing, “It’s `Showgirls.'” I’ll just note that as I watched “Beyond the Sea,” I felt like I was learning a lot more about Spacey, who directed and stars in the movie, than the singer of “Mack the Knife,” “Splish Splash” and the title tune. Spacey has discussed his obsession with filming Darin’s story, and that obsessive energy spills off the screen. When the project was announced, many writers noted that Spacey, now 45, was a bit long in the tooth to be playing someone who peaked in his 20s and died of heart failure at age 37. So, the director-actor has framed the story with a post-modern device that has Spacey, as Darin, making a movie about Darin’s life. (Think “De-Lovely” but weirder.) “Isn’t the real truth he’s too old to play this part?” one character asks at the beginning. “How can you be too old to play yourself?” comes the reply. Well, OK, then. But gee, he sure looks quite a bit older than 21-year-old Kate Bosworth, who plays Darin’s wife, actress Sandra Dee. And Brenda Blethyn, three years older than Spacey, plays his grandmother. Anyway, Spacey shows off his vocal chops, impressively imitating Darin’s post-Sinatra swing, and stages some Busby Berkeley-type musical numbers to boot. When Spacey as adult Darin starts singing and tap-dancing with the kid who plays the young Darin, you know you’re in the presence of crazy moxie.