Beyond the Sea (2004)
There’s nothing like addressing the elephant in the room from the get go. “Isn’t he too old to play the part?” a reporter asks in this film’s opening scene. Though the question is directed towards Bobby Darin portraying himself, it’s a clever nod to the pitfalls of 45 year old Spacey portraying teen idol Bobby Darin. Yet this was a pet project for Spacey, who not only played the lead, but also provided the vocals, script and direction. As a filmmaker, Spacey’s love for the subject is apparent in every frame... and he's quite fond of his leading man as well.
After a punchy opening scene that’s revealed to take place on a move set, Beyond the Sea doubles down in its daring when the older Darin is introduced to his younger self. Cue flashback to his childhood where a sickly Walden Robert Cassotto, beset by rheumatic fever, is not expected to live past his fifteenth birthday. Introduced to music by his doting mother, Darin matures into an exuberant adult who takes to the road after a deliciously fanciful musical number. A name change, courtesy of a faulty neon sign, and a song written in twenty minutes, sees Darin splishing and a splashing his way through the pop charts.
Spacey’s performance is key here as Darin’s confidence in his own abilities could quickly become tiresome. However the actor seems to be having such a good time that his enjoyment is infectious, in much the same way that Larry Parks made Al Jolson’s ego engaging. No sooner has Darin conquered the pop charts that he moves onto 'Mack the Knife' before turning to the camera and announcing “Let’s go make movies!”. On the set of Come September, he meets Sandra Dee and romances her in a joyous musical number set to the title tune.
There are plenty more flourishes that abide by this biopic’s credo “Memories are like moonbeams. We do with them what we want”. Some poignantly occur when the younger and older Darin occupy the same space, be it at a funeral or when a family secret is revealed, while others play for laughs in the midst of a marriage break-up. It’s a high-wire act in which Spacey almost manages to keep most balls in the air, but he fails to stick the landing with one fantasy musical sequence too many.
Until then, this pet project cum vanity production, is a delight.
Biopic makes no mention of Darin’s second marriage.
As opposed to hearing of Bobby Kennedy’s death on the radio, Bobby Darin was actually present at the Ambassador Hotel at the time of his assassination.
Darin never publicly reconciled with his mother.