Beyond The Sea (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner24/11/2004

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 120 mins

Patchy biopic that veers wildly between good and bad moments, but Spacey’s all-singing, all-dancing performance just about holds it together, despite the fact that he’s too old.

2004 is turning out to be The Year Of The Showbiz Biopic, what with Beyond The Sea (Bobby Darin), De-Lovely (Cole Porter) and upcoming films about Ray Charles (Ray, excellent) and Howard Hughes (The Aviator). As musical biopics go, Beyond the Sea is a lot better than De-Lovely (despite an equally dodgy framing device) but not a patch on Ray. At any rate, the film is the result of a long-cherished project by Kevin Spacey, who takes on the roles of writer and director, as well as playing Darin and doing all the singing and dancing himself.

Film Setting Never Explained Clearly

The framing device takes a lot of getting used to, as it’s never explained too clearly. At the end of his career, Bobby Darin (Kevin Spacey) is making a TV movie about his life, so what we’re effectively watching is a kind of fantasy film-within-a-film that allows the “young” Bobby (William Ullrich) and Spacey to interact, as well as providing the excuse for several song and dance numbers.

The film traces Darin’s life and career, from his early days as a sickly child to his first chart successes and a short stint as a movie star - during which he married popular screen star Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) and was nominated for an Oscar – before moving on to the later years when his overriding professional ambition got the better of him, leading to a separation from Sandy and a brief period where he dropped out of society altogether.

It also details the other characters in his life, including his mother, Polly (Brenda Blethyn), his long suffering manager, Steve Blauner (John Goodman), his devoted sister (Caroline Aaron), and his brother-in-law and substitute father, Charlie (Bob Hoskins).

Spacey is excellent as Darin, although he is plainly too old for the part – Darin died at 37 and Spacey is 45. As a result, he looks horribly out of place in the early years, particularly when romancing Kate Bosworth. The film actually tries to counter this criticism by having a character tell Spacey he’s too old “to play himself”, although that backfires because you wind up agreeing.

At any rate, age issues aside, Spacey’s commitment is undeniable and he proves himself a first rate song and dance man, singing a total of 19 songs on the soundtrack and acquitting himself admirably.

Film Something Of A Mixed Bag

The supporting cast are good too, particularly Bosworth and Hoskins, but also Greta Scacchi, who has an enjoyable cameo as Sandra Dee’s overprotective mother and gets the best line in the film when she tells her, “I TOLD you, you should have gone for Rock Hudson!”

Ultimately, the film is something of a mixed bag, because for every bit that doesn’t work (for example, the majority of the fantasy musical sequences are unimaginatively directed and seem forced), there’s a bit that does. Highlights include: Bobby finding inspiration for his stage name in a broken neon sign that reads “MANDARIN” (a classic biopic moment); the moving finale, with Bobby being primed with oxygen by Charlie, offstage; and a terrific four-character revelation scene in which Young Bobby and Old Bobby exchange horrified glances with each other.

In short, though it has its dodgy moments, Beyond The Sea is still worth seeing, both for Spacey’s impressive achievement as writer-director and his all-singing, all-dancing performance.

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Beyond The Sea (12A)
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Content updated: 16/10/2017 22:59

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