Beyond the Sea
November 4, 2005
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi, Caroline Aaron, Peter Cincotti, William Ullrich, Michael Byrne, Matt Rippy, Gary Whelan, ,
Insightful biopic or bloated vanity project? That’s what audiences and critics were asking themselves when Kevin Spacey’s labour of love, Beyond the Sea (2004), a dramatization of the life and times of legendary crooner Bobby Darin, came out. Since American Beauty (1999) Spacey has fallen victim to the “Oscar curse,” a rare affliction that befalls an actor or actress once they win an Academy Award. They start making all the wrong choices, starring in movies that pale in comparison to the film that got them that statuette in the first place. Spacey was clearly in need of a hit after the critical and commercial failures of Pay it Forward (2000), K-PAX (2001) and The United States of Leland (2003). So, a lot was riding on this personal project that he had cultivated over five years.
Spacey certainly looks and sounds uncannily like Darin. He even did his own singing. However, Currie Graham, who is ten years younger than Spacey, would have been ideal for the role as he bears an even close resemblance to the famous crooner. In a pre-emptive strike against this criticism and a moment of self-reflexivity, Spacey addresses his own age difference with Darin and his ability to play him accurately as we see the singer making a movie about his life. Darin is confronted by himself as a child (Ullrich). This triggers a flashback to the man’s childhood and his triumph over illness and his poor surroundings. This transition takes one out of the movie because it feels forced. It is painfully obvious that Spacey is trying to be too clever. He further breaks the illusion by breaking into a big musical number and it seems as if he can’t decide whether he’s making a hyper-realistic musical a la Moulin Rouge (2001) or a more traditional biopic.
Another aspect of Beyond the Sea that doesn’t work is the pairing of Spacey and Kate Bosworth who plays Sandra Dee. The real life age difference between the two actors is a bit of an issue but more importantly there is no chemistry between them. Bosworth was miscast. It looks like she is trying too hard to imitate Dee. With her smile and the way she carries herself Bosworth seems to be playing Jessica Simpson and not Sandra Dee. The best biopics don’t resort to imitating their real-life counterparts but rather try to capture the essence or spirit of their subjects.
While Spacey’s direction is certainly ambitious, it lacks the cinematic chops that someone like Baz Luhrmann can pull off. It’s as if his ambition outstretched his means. Spacey should have stuck to a more traditional format and let the powerful, sometimes surreal content of Darin’s own life speak for itself instead of trying to be too clever: the jarring jumps in time and the clumsy transitions from musical to biopic. Still, you have to admire Spacey’s passion for the material. He pours everything he’s got into the movie. In addition to starring in and singing the songs, he also co-produced, co-wrote and directed this movie. And herein lies the source of the film’s problems: Spacey spread himself too thin, trying to do too much and movie suffers as a result.
Beyond the Sea is a very confused movie that needed the guidance of a more experienced director. Spacey doesn’t have the chops to pull it off and this results in a flawed, uneven movie that may achieve the kind of cult status that would have earned it a spot on the Z Channel back in its heyday.
“Bobby’s World: The Making of Beyond the Sea” is a 16 minute featurette. Kevin Spacey grew up with big band music and got into Bobby Darin’s music, idolizing him. To save money and have more control, he made the movie on vast, period soundstages in Berlin, Germany. He worked long hours directing and acting, watching dailies and then going to dance rehearsals at night. Spacey was even given access to Darin’s archives and original sheet music which he used in the movie.
There is audio commentary by Kevin Spacey and producer Andy Paterson. They shot in Berlin because they needed access to a big soundstage within their budget that they affectionately dubbed, “Bobby’s World.” Spacey was influenced by Fellini’s 8 and 1/2 (1963) and Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979) in how to structure his own film and the desire to blur fantasy and reality. This is a low-key track packed with production information.