Thursday, January 06, 2005

'Beyond the Sea' is a rare jewel

"Memories are like moonbeams," Bobby Darin says in "Beyond the Sea," Kevin Spacey’s charming new biopic about the late crooner. "We do with them what we want."

And, indeed, the film uses a subjective (and selective) point of view to tell the troubled singer’s story, alternating between reality – the actual movie narrative – and a "movie within a movie" plot device, in which the older Darin (Spacey) tells his life’s story alongside the actor "playing" the younger Darin (William Ullrich). The approach is distracting and somewhat confusing, but it is one of the few missteps in an otherwise fantastic film.

"Beyond the Sea" highlights the rise and fall of the popular late 50s/early 60s singer, who briefly became a teen idol with hits like "Splish Splash" and "Dream Lover" before suddenly shifting gears and gaining even greater success performing big band-style standards such as "Mack the Knife." Darin’s popularity in the early 1960s was such that he was nominated for an Academy Award, won a Grammy, married actress Sandra Dee (played to perfection in the film by Kate Bosworth) and performed to packed audiences at clubs like the Copacabana.

The film’s depiction of Darin’s struggles (his estrangement from Sandra Dee, his declining recording career) seems a bit trite, if only because we’ve seen the same story countless times through the lives of pop singers like Elvis and Sinatra. Given the fact that Darin, while a talented entertainer, never approached the popular success of either of those two legends, one is tempted to wonder why Spacey bothered making the film at all.

But herein lies the genius of the movie. Not only does Spacey deliver a stunning performance as Bobby Darin, he recounts a rarely told tragic story that contains plot twists that would otherwise seem clichéd, but in Spacey’s hands become fresh and relevant.

Spacey’s singing is the highlight of this film. More up-tempo songs such as "Mack the Knife" and "That’s All" are performed with such skill that one can’t believe one is not hearing Darin’s actual songs on the soundtrack. It is almost as if Spacey, who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Darin anyway, was born to play this role.

Spacey also directed and co-wrote the film, which leads the viewer to believe that telling this story must have become something of an obsession for the multi-talented actor. The fact that this film succeeds on so many levels is due solely to his dedication to the project.

Watching this film is like discovering a rare jewel. Darin was indeed a talented performer, but in Spacey’s sympathetic portrayal, he becomes something more — a mentally troubled and physically ill soul who, realizing he was living on borrowed time because of a life-threatening illness, knew he had to quickly make his mark on the world before the final curtain call. That Darin’s star shown so brilliantly but briefly only adds to the emotional impact of this heartbreaking, bittersweet story.

One need not be a Bobby Darin fan to enjoy "Beyond the Sea." Spacey’s performance (most especially his singing) is worth the price of admission alone. If he does not win an Academy Award for this effort, there is no justice left in the land of illusion that is Hollywood.

The film is a loving ode to one of America’s most talented and least understood pop singers and proves, if nothing else, that there still are a few multi-talented performers lurking around the movie business these days.

"Beyond the Sea" is now playing at Regal Downtown West. It is rated PG-13 for adult language and a scene of sensuality.


Blogger Dewayne said...

Spacey does alot of great imitations. HAve you ever seen the SNL where he does a dead on Chris Walken and Walter Mathau trying out for SNL? It's great!!

12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank You for this great post. I believe that I will wonder over to Regal Downtown West for this epic event. Regal Cinemas an excellant company that Halls has

7:22 AM  

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