Beyond The Sea, the life story of 1950s and 60s singing sensation Bobby Darin adapted for the big screen by actor turned writer and director Kevin Spacey, is definitely a labor of love. Unfortunately, one needs more than love of a subject to keep a film from becoming a scattershot, hit-or-miss affair.
True, the film commits the usual sins all biographical movies make. It compresses some events into a single scene to facilitate story flow and composites multiple characters into one. The timeline of Darin’s life, especially his later years has been rearranged slightly for more dramatic emphasis and no mention is ever made of his second wife Andrea Joy Yeager. These conceits are part and parcel of the genre and are expected in even the best examples of the field. Spacey excuses himself by having Darin tell someone early in the film, “Memories are like moonbeams. We do with them what we want.”
However, there are more things that bog down Beyond The Sea. The film is very conscious of itself to the point of self-reference. The picture opens with Spacey as Darrin on a 1960s movie set filming his life story. After a take isn’t as perfect as Darin would like, he storms off only to be confronted by a reporter. “Aren’t you a little old to be playing yourself?” the journalist asks, leveling the same criticism that was fired at Spacey, who at age 45 is 8 years older than Darin when he died. Darin then embarks on a quasi-It’s A Wonderful Life-like journey through his own past, spectrally observing his childhood. While an interesting idea, the way it is executed here is not so much clever, as it is trying to hard at being clever. Early on, the film breaks out into a couple of song and dance numbers that, while well staged, stop the film in its tracks. However, both the musical numbers and the Darin-as-time-traveling-observer framing device disappear for most of the film, only reappearing for a finale that feels lifted from last year’s Cole Porter bio-pic De-Lovely.
Despite the age problem, Spacey does bring much to his role as Darin. He brings verve to the part of Darrin in his 20s, almost compensating for the lines around his eyes. He also brings some understated dramatic weight to the scenes later in Darin’s life, especially one of Darin’s last talks with his son. Even more impressive is Spacey’s singing and dancing, capturing Darrin’s style effortlessly. Equally impressive is Kate Bosworth as Darin’s love Sandra Dee, who adroitly charts her Dee’s slow disillusion with her marriage and descent into alcoholism in the few scenes afforded her.
Ultimately though, one doesn’t leave the film with much of a sense of who Bobby Darin the man was. The film touches upon key moments of his life, but only superficially plumbs Darin’s drive to be the ultimate entertainer. Unfortunately, this leaves Beyond The Sea just more than a little shallow.