Though Beyond the Sea is nominally the Bobby Darin story, it plays out more as the Kevin Spacey story. Spacey the director (and co-producer and co-screenwriter) gives Spacey the lead actor so many songs to sing that it’s almost like watching a concert film. Spacey does all his own singing in the film, and he seems quite good (I’m not an expert about such things), but in its way that’s kind of a distracting novelty, like finding out some name actor is doing all his own daredevil stunts, and then you watch it with that in mind, always being aware it’s the actor and not a stunt man.
I like Bobby Darin’s music. I’m not a huge fan, but I have a greatest hits type CD of his.
This isn’t quite a straight biography, in that here and there it incorporates fantasy scenes and surreal elements (people on the street bursting into song and transforming into a production number, the character at two different ages talking to himself, etc.). Those mostly don’t work for me, as that kind of thing typically doesn’t. (As a comedy, Annie Hall has elements like that that work, but that’s one of the few exceptions I can think of. Almost always I’d rather they just play it straight.) They also took as many or more liberties with the truth than the typical nonfiction movie (which I’m also not wild about, though I recognize it’s an accepted convention to do that in movies), and when you add that to the fantasy elements, this just isn’t real enough for me.
I won’t say Darin’s life was uninteresting; there are some elements to it worth pondering, including his urgent ambition based on his awareness that a heart weakened by a sickly childhood meant he could die at any time. But it’s not a life—at least as told here—that particularly stands out. If you picked at random one of the other five hundred or so top name performers of the last fifty years, you’d probably have a life at least as eventful and worthy of a movie. Other than maybe Spacey being a huge Bobby Darin fan, it’s not clear why this particular subject was picked.
A lot of it’s pretty formulaic. Guy is obnoxious and arrogant with a girl, girl reacts negatively on the surface while of course being fascinated and soon falling for the guy (can someone please retire that movie cliché before I shoot myself?), they have an idyllic romance and get married, ego and stress and celebrityhood eat away at the relationship until they’re reduced to drunken hostility and histrionics, etc.
The acting in Beyond the Sea is solid throughout, and as I say, there are some interesting elements to the story, but on the whole I wasn’t real impressed with this Kevin Spacey vanity project. I’d prefer a more strictly fact-based book or movie about Darin to this film (and would probably prefer listening to some Bobby Darin records over either).