Beyond the Sea is not just a uniquely stylized biography about one of America’s greatest stage entertainers, it’s a cry for help from a man who just wants to sing and dance. For heaven’s sake, why couldn’t someone have just cast Kevin Spacey in their musical movie a long time ago and been done with it?
Bobby Darin, for those of you too young to remember or care, was an American icon both as a rock and roll idol and a Sinatra-esque lounge performer (though he would wince at being compared to ol’ Frankie). Real name Robert Walden Cassotto, Darin was also an arrogant, hot-headed perfectionist who demanded more than the best from himself and those around him, managing to anger a lot of people during his lifetime. He won a couple of Grammys, made a few movies, was nominated for an Oscar and spent the final years of his short but miraculous life ranting against the Vietnam War. Throw in the two or three traumatic events of his life, like childhood rheumatic fever, shake it up a bit, set it all to music and you have Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey’s take on Darin’s life.
A triple threat performer (for you non-theater folk, that means he can act, sing and dance all at the same time) Spacey is more than qualified to embody the life of Bobby. If you look at the similarities in their faces you can’t help but acknowledge that Kevin was born to play the role. I’m not as convinced that he was the man to write, direct and produce the movie as well. Had he not, though, I’m certain the film might never have been made and then he wouldn’t have gotten to do his musical. That wouldn’t have been good enough for Spacey. There was something inside him that just needed to sing and dance.
As biography films go, Beyond the Sea is a trippy ride, more existential fancifulness than factual, dramatic storytelling. The concept for the movie has Bobby Darin directing the movie of his own life. Darin, in a presumed post-mortem state (he died in his thirties while the character in the movie is in his forties) , teams up with the child actor playing his younger self as they explore the life and mortality of Robert Cassotto while discovering the joy and immortality of Bobby Darin. It’s an odd set up that becomes confusing at times, magical in others.
Spacey uses Darin’s own songs as the foundation for the film. They drive the story and easily take up at least half the screen time. Each number is presented in some clever element in an effort to keep things fresh and interesting but after a while you begin to feel like you’re watching a Broadway musical not a Hollywood biopic. Spacey’s performance is the focus of the show, but his supporting cast are the real stars. John Goodman, Kate Bosworth, Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn all give lovely performances to offset the constant singing and dancing.
Beyond the Sea belongs Off-Broadway, not on screen. In fact, it should be performed on a stage in Vegas where it would probably be more appreciated. As a piece of cinema, it’s different at best. Hopefully the talented Mr. Spacey has gotten the singing, dancing and directing out of his system and can move on to find better uses for his skills.
Beyond the Sea was something of a pet project for Kevin Spacey. It never had major studio backing and never played in more than 400 theaters on any given weekend during its thin and mostly ignored run. As such I doubt there was much hope for home video revenue, an assumption reflected by the lack of effort that seems to have gone into the DVD.
Some of my favorite features on DVDs are subtitles. If I’m not learning how to say “quantum plasma radiation discharge” in French I’m finding out what the heck that mumbling actor just said. To my dismay there were no English subtitles for the Beyond, no sing-a-long Bobby Darin karaoke, unless you want try your hand at “Mack, The Knife” in Spanish. It’s especially frustrating since the audio track is muddled at points, making the dialogue a little difficult to make out.
Kevin Spacey and his production designer drone on for the full two hours in their full length commentary. Both regularly point out that the movie had an equally blessed and troubled shoot, and was one that prided itself in its efficiencies and collaborations. Yeah, it makes for dull discussion and should be skipped by everyone except struggling independent filmmakers aching for inspiration.
Bobby’s World: The Making of Beyond The Sea is the only other bonus feature to speak of. It’s a pleasant 16 minute look at the actors, sets, and recording studios and is worth watching whether or not you really enjoyed the movie. Spacey himself manages to clear up some of the questions created by the film’s artistic license while Bob Hoskins cracks some good humored jokes at his director’s expense.
The only other option on the rather elegant menus are previews for other Lions Gate projects. Actually, watching the preview for the soon to be released Crash DVD was the most excited I got through the entire disc. It’s a Bobby Darin fans-only package. Everyone else…go rent Ray.