Saturday, August 12, 2006

Beyond The Sea (2004)

by Professor Wagstaff

I was quite interested in seeing this Kevin Spacey directed biopic of Bobby Darin at the cinema a couple of weeks ago* – partly because I was interested in learning something substantial about Darin’s life, experiencing his music and partly because I was curious to see how Spacey’s ‘labor of love’ had turned out.

Firstly, there was the widely-said criticism of how Spacey was simply too old to play Darin and after seeing the film, I have to agree. It hurts the film on a surface level in the early scenes where Spacey is playing Darin in his early 20’s – the worst example of this is when he’s singing ‘Splish Splash’ on a TV show in front of an audience of screaming teenage girls. Try as he might, Spacey pretending to be a teen idol doesn’t convince and just feels silly and even absurd.

And Spacey’s age also hurts the film on a deeper level as Spacey tries to justify the obvious age gap by having a framing device of a mid-30’s Darin play himself in his own biopic. It adds very little to the film except self-consciousness and length.

And yet despite these substantial flaws I found the film enjoyable. Certainly the music helped which (apart from the inane ‘Splish Splash’) is enormously entertaining to listen to. And Spacey’s direction has a nice verve and pizzazz at times – nobody will mistake him for Stanley Donen but the musical numbers are entertaining and well-staged.

But Spacey does make some errors with his direction. In particular a scene where a major row occurs between Darin and his wife Sandra Dee is incorrectly turned into a cartoonish comic scene. This is most likely because Spacey didn’t want to present Darin in an unfavorable light by presenting in a realistic manner (especially as Darin's selfishness is the prime cause of the fight) and took the soft option of presenting it in a jokey manner.

As for the insights into Darin the person, there are some interesting things although its generally pretty standard for this type of biopic. The film’s perspective on the Darin/Dee marriage is that Darin went after her to compliment his already large ego in that he could have any woman he wanted, even the ultimate pin-up girl in Dee that would’ve been unthinkable even a couple of years before.

I thought the portrayl of Sandra Dee was well done in a reasonably complex fashion. We understand how she's both repelled and attracted to Darin in their inital meetings and her struggles of being a young girl living in a non-reality Hollywood lifestyle backed up by an overbearing mother (entertainingly played by Greta Scacchi). But we also see how she lets her brief and superficial success in Hollywood gets to her head and her failure to realise that her lifespan as a major actor is going to be much shorter then she anticipates. Within the constraints of this film, I thought the portrayl (and performance by Kate Bosworth) rang true.

So despite significant flaws (as well as an over-extended ending), I enjoyed the film overall and there’s been a fairly low percentage of films I’ve seen at the cinema I can say that about in recent years. And I should add that Greta Scacchi is great fun in the small role of Sandra Dee’s mother.

*A highly unusual aspect of this film was that it took 18 months after it got released in America to actually get released to cinemas here in Australia. Usually by that period most films have not only already become available on DVD but are available on Pay-TV. Apparently it appeared for a long time that this film would go straight to DVD in Australia but I’m guessing someone decided to release it to cinemas because they saw a chance to exploit the Bosworth/Spacey pairing on the back of their appearance in ‘Superman Returns’.


Blogger jaydro said...

I mean to see this, and probably will, eventually.

I thought Roger Ebert's comment that Spacey was perhaps a better singer than Darin was interesting.

Sorry for the late response--I thought I might see it before responding, but I now realize that's going to take a while....

9/06/2006 01:05:00 PM  

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