Soaring rise and splashy fall

news: Soaring rise and splashy fall

This Bobby Darin biopic reportedly spent about 20 years going through various drafts, by many different screenwriters, before Kevin Spacey grabbed it and made it his own (quite literally). Borrowing more than just a little from Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979), the film takes place in a kind of flashback/dream structure in which Darin (Spacey) talks with himself as a little child.

Darin, who died in 1973 aged 37, was the ultimate vocal chameleon believed by many to have spent his entire career pretending to be someone else. His artistic insecurity also had deep roots in his personal life – the woman he had grown up believing was his mother was actually his grandmother, while his biological mother, Nina (Caroline Aaron), who had become pregnant with him as a teenager, was raised as his older sister (chameleons everywhere).

The problems begin with casting Spacey as Bobby Darin, whose life was a series of peaks and valleys as he fought a crippling illness since childhood, became a beloved singer with hits such as Splish Splash and Mack the Knife, married popular actress Sandra Dee (he later divorced her, although the film conveniently omits this fact on the way to a happy ending) and managed to emerge as a respected, Oscar-nominated actor.

Spacey is 45-years-old, yet here he is playing Darin from his late teens, up until his death at the age of 37 (you do the maths!). In an attempt to cover up this glaringly obvious mis-cast, Beyond the Sea spends most of its time in medium shot, rather effectively hiding Spacey’s maturing visage. His sarcasm, which flaunted an ironic insincerity driven by arrogance, cruelty and bitter humour, established in movies like Swimming With Sharks and American Beauty, lately absent in many of his films, has a lot in common with Darin’s stage personality. But this is sadly not the film’s saving grace – it doesn’t have one.

The narrative is disjointed by the surreal musical moments, when, for no apparent reason, people just break into long, elaborate, Broadway-style musical numbers. And when Spacey sings in Darin’s voice, which he does no less than 14 times in this film, although he is very good, it is an act of supreme ego – he’s as sure of his Darin impersonation as he is of his own greatness.

The film-within-a-film framing device, meant to deflect criticism of the distortions (“He was born to play the role!” someone says of Darin, though, I think we can assume that the line is really about Spacey), is almost as clumsy as these apparently spontaneous, flat-footed musical numbers, and the good supporting cast, that includes Kate Bosworth (as Sandra Dee), Bob Hoskins and John Goodman, is left almost abandoned with little to do.

Beyond the Sea is essentially the Kevin Spacey story, with the same amount of delusions of grandeur and aspirations towards artistic martyrdom. It lacks passion and joy, replacing them both with something that smacks of mid-life crisis. He’ll be buying a sports car next!