Review – Beyond the Sea (KS, February 2005)

DRAMA/BIOGRAPHY/US/ENGLISH (JAPANESE SUBTITLES) 121 MINS.
STARRING: KEVIN SPACEY, KATE BOTSWORTH, JOHN GOODMAN,
DIRECTOR: KEVIN SPACEY
LION’S GATE FILMS

In the five years or so between Elvis joining the army and The Beatles invading The Ed Sullivan Show, it seemed as though every teen idol in America was called “Bobby.” Bobby Vee/Curtola/Vinton/Helm/Fuller, even Bobby “Boris” Pickett who sang The Monster Mash, all came and went with admirable speed. The exception, for a time,to the cookie-cutter mould was Bobby Darin. Having paid his dues with novelty songs, like Splish-Splash (which, ironically, is still one his most famous tunes), Darin went beyond the Bandstand crowd to winning over their parents with serious international hits like Beyond the Sea and Mack the Knife. He was a headliner in Vegas (where every sidekick and arranger was called Sammy, and answered to Frankie), which in those days was quite a leap; he made movies and was nominated for an Oscar. It didn’t last long, though: like many singers of the day, his career tanked during the British Invasion of the early 60s. He was making a comeback of sorts when he died at 37 in 1973. Although that sounds untimely, he was never expected to live past 15, due to childhood rheumatic fever. Well, I guess he showed them.

Kevin Spacey is 45. If you can forget that he’s playing a man whose career peaked in his mid-20s, you’re halfway home. Still, when I first heard about this movie, I immediately thought of the old Tom Lehrer line: “When Mozart was my age, he’d been dead for five years.” This is not just a vanity project, though: Spacey directed, co-wrote and starred in this movie. He performs all the Darin songs on the soundtrack, and acquits himself quite nicely. Whatever you might think of the schmaltz of the 60s lounge-lizard world of Hollywood and Las Vegas (if anything at all), Spacey re-creates it meticulously and (we assume) accurately. Amidst all this, Darin’s failed marriage to the teen actress Sandra Dee (Kate Botsworth) also comes under the microscope (with Dee’s evident approval or remuneration, because she’s still alive and so are her lawyers). This is a labour of love on Spacey’s part, and that tends to make up for the so-what-ness of of it all.

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