The film opens with Darin (Spacey) walking through the kitchen area of the Copacabana Night Club. His step-brother, Charlie (Bob Hoskins), manager Steve (John Goodman) and others are following behind him as he takes the stage at the historic nightclub. He starts off with “Mack The Knife”. However, a few bars into the song, he stops and says “We’re starting over.” The lights go up and the actors in the audience grumble. They’ve been there all day. Darin looks out past the audience, out into the studio soundstage and spots the little boy playing Little Bobby. Little Bobby loudly announces that “This isn’t right. You can do it better.” Darin considers this for a moment and says “You know what? We can do it better”. Then the film picks up with Darin’s childhood in Brooklyn, with his mom (Brenda Blethyn).
You see. “Beyond The Sea” is a film about Bobby Darin making a film about his life. It’s not enough to just tell the story, we have to see the inner workings of his id and superego. It’s Darin vs. Freud.
This annoying, contrived set-up is Spacey’s (yes, the blame lies on him. He co-wrote and directed the film) way of providing an introspective peek into Darin’s life. As if we need that. A more straight forward approach or a more out-and-out movie musical approach would have been much better. Even more annoying, this method of storytelling is abandoned after a few minutes and the film tells a conventional chronology of Darin’s life.
Anybody who has read any interviews with Spacey will know that this film has been a dream of Spacey’s for a long time. He even put together a little concert tour to promote the film. Spacey, the star, does an adequate job or playing Darin, and convincing us that he has the talent and persistence to become a star. However, at one point, a character says “He’s too old for the role.” Remember, they are talking about Darin playing himself. This little snippet of dialogue is very telling. Spacey is currently 45 or 46. The first time we see him playing Darin, Darin is probably in his early 20s. Darin only lived to be 36. So essentially, he is way too old to play Darin. The fact that Darin needed a hair piece doesn’t really help bridge the gap. Spacey’s laugh lines stand out like a sore thumb.
Spacey. the co-writer and director, clearly wants to tell the life of someone he greatly admires, but the effort is muddled. Beyond the awkward beginning, which I have already mentioned, he can’t decide if he wants to do a traditional biopic, with music, ala “Ray” (a far superior film) or a musical like “Chicago”. The transition from Darin as a little boy to Darin as a teenager, ready to go out and make a name for himself involves Spacey and many other people in a large production number of a street in Brooklyn. The street is clearly a soundstage, which makes me wonder if they are trying to pay homage to the musicals of yesteryear. If they are, in fact, trying to do this, why isn’t there more of it? As Darin is romancing Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) in Italy, he breaks into song and dance and cavorts around. The third and final example of an actual musical number is the finale where Darin dances with Little Bobby. Not only is this a little weird (Darin dancing with himself and about twenty other guys in tuxedo?) it is strangely out of place. It seems as though it would be more in place in “Chicago” than this film. There are a lot of scenes when Darin is singing his standards, but curiously, it doesn’t seem as though there are enough. The scenes depicting Darin’s film work, his disappointment at losing an Oscar (his first time nominated and apparently he was upset he lost) and his scenes of marital strife with Sandra Dee become labored and excruciating to watch.
All in all, the awkward, inconsistent storyline and every scenes emphasis on Darin (Sandra Dee has a fraction of the screentime) lead me to believe that perhaps, sometimes, people shouldn’t be allowed to make films about subjects they are passionate about.