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December 2004

By Julian Roman
Beyond the Sea

Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Director: Kevin Spacey
Producer: Jan Fantl, Arthur E. Friedman, Andy Paterson, Kevin Spacey
Screenwriter: Lewis Colick
Cinematographer: Eduardo Serra
Composer: Christopher Slaski
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, John Goodman, Gretta Scacchi, Caroline Aaron, William Ullrich




Kevin Spacey's turn as star and director of Beyond the Sea yields mixed results. The film, slated as a biopic of the late Bobby Darrin, is more of a fantasy musical than a straightforward narrative. Normally that might not be a problem, but Spacey's screenplay uses a strange character element to forward the story. The adult Bobby Darrin (Spacey) and the young Bobby Darrin, played superbly by child actor William Ullrich, talk to each other throughout the film. They argue about how their story should be told and then engage in elaborate musical numbers. It's oddly done with the added bonus of cutting into the story when it becomes interesting. Spacey chose to do a more stylized film. It might have worked if he'd paid enough attention to Bobby Darrin's life story. He hands it out in bits surrounded by a lot of flash. Biopics should attempt to be as informative as possible. Spacey leaves a lot of questions unresolved and skips big chunks of Darrin's life. Beyond the Sea is more a celebration of Bobby Darrin's music than anything else.

Bobby Darrin barely survived childhood because of a heart condition. His doctors gave him no chance of growing up and having a normal life. This was the foundation for his tenacity as an artist. Spacey captures Darrin's drive and search for glory. He was living on borrowed time and wanted to maximize every second he had. Darrin did this at the expense of his loved ones. He had a strong support group of family and friends that stood behind his every move. The actors that play these roles are a veritable treasure trove of Hollywood's finest actors. Brenda Blethyn steals the show as Darrin's formidable mother. Bob Hoskins and Dan Goodman play his brother-in-law and manager, two men instrumental in Darrin's success. Caroline Aaron, a staple of film and television for twenty years, plays his sister, a woman that loved Darrin dearly and held his darkest secrets. Blonde beauty Kate Bosworth stars as Sandra Dee, the young 60's movie star that fell in love with Darrin and gave up her career to be with him. It's Bosworth's most mature role to date, but she is criminally underused. Her importance in Darrin's life was paramount. Spacey has her coming and going, popping up when necessary. Sandra Dee deserves more than what Spacey gives her in this film.

There have been rumblings about the age difference between Spacey and Bosworth. Bobby Darrin was twenty-four when he met the seventeen year old Sandra Dee. Spacey's old enough to be Bosworth's father and no amount of make-up can cover that. That shouldn't be an issue because if you buy Spacey playing Darrin, then you've got to suspend disbelief about the age difference. The issue should be how their relationship is not fully explored by the film. That's a much bigger and relevant flaw.

The leap from actor to director is a tricky one. It's rarely done successfully and unfortunately Spacey doesn't pull it off here. He has way too much screen time in Beyond the Sea. Granted, it is the Bobby Darrin story, but half the film is Spacey singing and dancing. He's front and center in parts that have nothing to do with the story. It's almost as it Spacey is proving to the world that he's capable of doing musical theatre. He treads thin ice here. Beyond the Sea comes painfully close to looking like a vanity project. Spacey discussed this during our interview for the movie. He knew the criticisms the film was receiving and addressed them, particularly this one, head on. Spacey claims he wanted to pay homage to his favorite performer by showing the world how great his music was. That's admirable, but he really goes overboard here. Spacey's love for this project is evident, but he needed to be more objective. The result is that the audience gets a heavy dose of Spacey and not enough of Bobby Darrin.