Remember back around 2001 when Kevin Spacey started singing? It was at a televised all-star tribute to John Lennon at New York's Radio City Music Hall where the Oscar winning actor belted out a mean version of the oddly chosen song "Mind Games." The stunned audience clapped wildly, giving Spacey a standing ovation for the talent revealing but rather perplexing performance.
Why perplexing? Because though Spacey unleashed his powerful, surprising vocal chops, he looked like a middle aged guy on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Spacey said as much. When news got a hold of the show, Spacey was quoted with: "I'm out of my mind. That's what I've been saying for the last four days. I'm absolutely out of my mind."
Indeed. And for close to the next four years, he'd been "out of his mind" in the middle of Beyond the Sea, the famed biopic of crooner, hoofer and actor Bobby Darin a project Spacey starred in and directed with obvious obsession.
But the obsession pays off—albeit in ways, perhaps, Spacey may not have intended. An odd cross between a sweet, well intentioned bio-pic and a dark, self centered Bob Fosse confession (the brilliant All that Jazz in particular), Beyond the Sea is just plain weird. It's a movie that was definitely directed by the mind of Kevin Spacey—ego-fueled, corny yet effectively chilly and in certain sequences, dazzling entertaining.
Spacey opens the film in a meta- movie within a movie conceit that he carries throughout the entire picture. Making the audience aware that they are watching a movie, that there will be some poetic license and even that Spacey is too old to play Darin (who died at age 37—younger than 40-ish Spacey), Spacey wants viewers to know this isn't a straight telling. You have to "bend moonbeams" as he tells the young actor playing young Darin.
Young Darin starts out sickly. Born Walden Robert Cassotto, the boy had a weak heart due to rheumatic fever and wasn't expected to live past age 15. Of course this only leads to a zestier lust for life and especially song, and he dutifully practices singing, dancing and piano with his bawdy, loving ex-vaudevillian mother (played by Brenda Bleythn) who proclaims he'll be bigger than Sinatra. Grown up and re-christened Bobby Darin, the ambitious young man hungers for success, eventually getting big with the dopey pop hit "Splish Splash." But by 1960 Darin wanted more and got it. Joyously belting out standards like "Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea" in that heavily punctuated but smooth Darin style--the guy was huge by his 20's, eventually winning both Grammy's and an Oscar nomination.
He also married teen star Sandra Dee (played by Kate Bosworth) in one of those on-the-surface "perfect" but underneath brimming-with-trouble marriages. Drinking, fighting and career slumps (for both stars) plague the marriage as well as a startling revelation that aides in Darin's decision to drop out for a time. Losing the toupees, Vegas shows and loungy standards, a hippy-ish Darin becomes interested in politics and folk singing. If the times were-a-changing, Darin was going to change right along.
If this sounds like standard bio-pic material, it is. But Spacey messes with convention so much, you never feel stranded inside "the truth." Adding song and dance numbers to the point of classifying the picture as a musical, we watch, quite impressed as the actor sings, himself, all of Darin's songs, dances in the streets and honestly gives it his all. There's something intriguingly naked about Beyond the Sea, and not for a glimpse at Darin, the man and his music, but Spacey, the actor and his dream. Though many critics easily dismissed the film it's just too intriguing for such easy repudiation. Spacey has something to say (or sing) and even if his "message" feels manufactured at times, it's oddly (though fantastically) real.
Lions Gate Entertainment presents Beyond the Sea in a gorgeous transfer (16:9 Widescreen) showing off the picture's beautiful, bright cinematography and sometimes, inventive direction.
Audio comes in English Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. Very imporant here as the film invovles so much music. The sound is terrific.
Extras include an informative making of featurette where cast and crew are interviewed about the project. You'll be surprised to learn that the film was shot in Germany and that the idyllic, sunny Italian scenes were shot in the freezing cold. Also, Spacey continues on about his Darin obsession. Commentary with Spacey and one of the film's producers is also on board with Spacey dominating. Spacey is a smart, thoughtful man and director so it's no surprise he lists both Fosse's All That Jazz and Fellini's 8 1/2 as inspirations.
Final Thoughts:Beyond the Sea may not equal Bob Fosse genius, but it's such a curious work with such a proving-himself performance that even the staunchest curmudgeon has to be secretly impressed—even if they believe Kevin Spacey may be having a nervous breakdown. If he is, it sure is a stunning one.
Read more Kim Morgan at her blog Sunset Gun