BEYOND THE SEA

Review by Mark Walters

Sadly there are many people out there who don't know the name Bobby Darin.  Some would call him a misguided genius, others would say he was one of the greatest entertainers of our time.  Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey wanted to show the world who Bobby was through his eyes.  He took on a very difficult project after deciding to both star in and direct a film about Darin's life.  After going through many obstacles, such as being forced to find financing overseas rather than through Hollywood, Kevin ultimately completed his task.  Very soon everyone will be able to see his vision brought to the big screen in the new film BEYOND THE SEA from Lion's Gate Films.

The movie opens with Bobby Darin (Spacey) later in life walking into a club to sing a few songs, but it isn't long before he unexpectedly stops the band in the middle of their routine.  The reason?  He sees a kid backstage.  One that looks just like him when he was a kid.  It's here where we learn that at this moment Darin is supposed to be shooting a movie about his life, and this is the kid who is playing him as a young boy.  This young Bobby (talented newcomer William Ullrich) is about to take his grown-up counterpart on a little journey through their past.  Kinda like A CHRISTMAS CAROL only more showbiz related.  It starts with Bobby growing up with a very modest life, living with his loving mother Polly (Brenda Blethyn), and getting frequent visits from his older sister Nina (Caroline Aaron) and brother-in-law Charlie (Bob Hoskins).  He gets some shocking news when the family doctor diagnoses him with a life threatening illness, and informs his mom that Bobby will be lucky to live past 15.  So he decides that he is going to live life to it's fullest, and become something really special.  Polly teaches him the joys of music and dance, which he becomes fascinated if not obsessed with.  After hitting his 20's, and defying his own illness, Darin has already become an impressive singer.  But the small club acts aren't enough for him.  Bobby wants to be bigger than Frank Sinatra.  He wants the whole world to know not just his name but his face.  He finds a good business manager in Steve "Boom Boom" Blauner (John Goodman), and includes family by letting Charlie and Nina tag along whenever possible.  Bobby's illness never left him, so we see how it affects him in various ways, such as having to wear hairpieces to cover up his balding head.  As he rises in fame, Darin eventually finds his way into acting, where he meets hot young starlet Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth).  Initially Dee is disturbed by Darin, but he makes it a personal goal to woo Sandra away from her controlling mother.  And eventually he accomplishes that too.  Dee marries Darin, and everything seems fine.  It as if there's nothing he can't do.  But Bobby just never can be satisfied.  No matter how good life gets, he always wants more.  Plus there are still some dark secrets that Darin has yet to discover about his own life. 

Kevin Spacey has made it clear that this film is something very personal for him.  He's already said it's not a biopic, but rather his statement.  I can easily say that the film conveys those sentiments nicely.  Spacey is awesome as Darin.  He captures the look and demeanor very well, and does a phenomenal job singing ALL of the songs in the film.  Even his dance moves seem masterful.  That said, it's sometimes hard to accept him at certain points in the film, simply because it's so obvious that Spacey is too old to be playing the age he's supposed to be on the screen.  At one point we see him playing Darin in his 20's, and it just feels too weird.  Aside from a nose prosthetic and hairpiece, there's not a lot of makeup on Spacey, so his age really shows through from time to time.  There's actually a joke at the beginning of the movie which sort of touches on this very problem, but it's a little distracting nonetheless.  Kate Bosworth is terrific as Sandra Dee.  She does a fine job showing all the wholesome qualities everyone is familiar with in that famous actress, but also manages to wow us when showing the darker moments of her life.  I've never been overly impressed with Bosworth, but her performance here is spot on.  John Goodman, who is one of my favorite actors of all time, is good when he's used, but his role is surprisingly pretty ancillary for the most part.  Steve "Boom Boom" Blauner was a very influential figure in Bobby Darin's life, so I'm a little confused that Goodman is not used more in the film.  Bob Hoskins has some nice moments as Darin's brother-in-law.  I often forget how good Hoskins can be in serious roles, so it's nice to see him used here.  One of the most impressive performances comes from little William Ullrich, who plays Darin as a boy.  This kid is extremely talented, considering this is the first thing he's ever done.  Spacey deserves a pat on the back for discovering such a talented young actor.

Overall BEYOND THE SEA is a pretty honest telling of Darin's life, at least from a personality point of view.  Many facts were changed for storytelling purposes, which Spacey readily admits to.  There are some unusual moments in the film, particularly when the story stops down for a few impromptu dance numbers.  Now keep in mind this is supposed to be Darin's way of remembering parts of his life, but you can't help finding it a little odd, especially when it happens so unexpectedly.  Spacey's directing is done very well.  It must have been difficult to capture some of these moments so well, when most of his time was spent acting.  There are times when the film almost has a Broadway production feel, which almost certainly stems from Kevin's theater background.  I could easily see this movie done as a play.  There are some rather dark moments late in the film, where we see the low points of Bobby's life.  One particularly shocking discovery sends him spiraling into depression, and leaving his celebrity image behind.  I'm actually glad Spacey shows this part of Darin, and in many ways this is where the film really begins to impress.

I applaud Spacey for taking on such an ambitious project.  These days biopics are very much in vogue.  I hope this film gets decent distribution, as there are unfortunately still many people who have no idea who Bobby Darin was.  Considering Kevin's last few films haven't been all that great, this could very well be a nice comeback for him.  It's safe to say his performance is great, even if the age thing is hard to take.  Jamie Foxx recently stunned everyone with his performance as Ray Charles in RAY.  I think RAY is a better film overall, but BEYOND THE SEA is still a very valiant effort.  If nothing else Spacey has proven himself as a storyteller behind the camera, as well as in front.

BIGFANBOY.com score - On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I give BEYOND THE SEA an 8.


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