Diagnosed with a heart ailment at an early age, Walden Robert Cassotto (Kevin Spacey) wasn't expected to live past his teenage years. Against the odds, Cassotto changed his name to Bobby Darin and embarked on a singing career, hoping to match the success of his idol Frank Sinatra. Ratcheting up hit after hit during his 20s, Darin reigned supreme, even marrying America's sweetheart, Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth, "Blue Crush") in the process. However, Darin's health problems chased him his entire life, cutting short a remarkable career just as it was reaching its most profound point.
There are two controversies surrounding Kevin Spacey's "Beyond the Sea" (IMDb listing). The first is a question of age (which the film addresses right away). Spacey, a 45 year-old actor, has entrusted himself to bring the life of Darin to the screen, from age 18 (or so) to Darin's death at 37. While Spacey's career has been littered with performances where the actor has completely transformed himself, nothing has presented a challenge like "Beyond the Sea." Through the use of heavy makeup, bright costumes, and Spacey's gift for encapsulating Darin's bravado, the film almost has it. This is Spacey's dream project, and the efforts to capture Darin's rise to fame are interesting to say the least. Spacey clomps around in several musical numbers, and dashes from one side of the frame to the next to grasp that elusive energy that Darin prided himself on. Eventually it becomes confusing, especially when the film highlights the fact that Darin's achievements came at such an early age. With a much older Spacey front and center, it's hard for that particular sentiment to ring true.
The second of the controversies is Spacey's choice to perform all of Darin's songs himself. That's right, for the life story of Bobby Darin, a man who made the world spin with his smooth voice and swagger, you never once hear his voice. The knee-jerk reaction would be to angrily write off the film as one of Spacey's vanity projects (shades of the reprehensible "K-Pax"), which "Sea" unquestionably is. In interviews, Spacey has explained his reasoning, stating that the film is not intended as a strictly biographical account of Darin's life, but more of a contact high experience. To fit his vision of the project, Darin's songs needed to be extended. Being more of a musical than a narrative driven tale, Spacey makes "Sea" pop with its song and dance numbers, highlighting a love for cinematic choreography of the past. But when it comes down to it, Spacey's theft of the Darin catalog is unforgivable in spite of his pure intentions. Spacey may have a similar range and delight in the art form, but could Jamie Foxx get away with singing Ray Charles' song in the similar "Ray?" No, and neither does Spacey with Darin's catalog.
The rest of "Beyond the Sea," at least the non-Spacey sections, ingratiates itself with the viewer. Spacey's love for the tale is infectious at times, even in dark sections detailing the identity of Darin's true mother, and the film runs smoothly due to his directorial dedication to transitions and pace. Spacey also brings out a wonderful performance from Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee. Bosworth matches Spacey note for note in their scenes of marital troubles, and she also strikingly resembles the long retired actress, making for an even stronger performance.
For Darin fanatics, "Beyond the Sea" would be a tough film to recommend due to Spacey's interference with the legend's magic. This is colorful film, and for a tribute to Darin's energy, it really succeeds. Yet Spacey's tinkering is perplexing, and conspires against the real reason any film about Darin should be made: to showcase Darin's sublime natural abilities.
Filmfodder Grade: C