For several years, unbeknownst to a lot of people, Kevin Spacey (American Beauty) was a fan of Bobby Darin and had a film project in the works about the singer’s life. One of the reasons why the project took so long is that even with someone of Spacey’s caliber, the toughest part is always the financing. Spacey’s project was definitely a labor of love, as he wrote and directed the film, and even sung such Darin standards as “Splish Splash”, “Dreamlover” and of course, the hit that shares the…movie’s title.
The film is somewhat different than the usual movie biopic. It does not portray the main character warts and all (assuming he had any warts to begin with), and as one who knew very little about Darin, I felt like I learned a little, but not as much as I would have liked to. And considering that Darin’s life was considerably too short (he died before his 40th birthday), the film at almost two hours seems to roam a little bit.
Despite the story, the film is saved by the performances of the cast. John Goodman (King Ralph) as Darin’s manager proves to be quite capable in the role, Bob Hoskins (Mona Lisa) as Darin’s assistant Charlie is quiet and supportive, and Kate Bosworth (Wonderland) is excellent as Darin’s wife Sandra Dee. At first, my assumption was that Bosworth only seems to be appearing in docudramas, but she plays the classic beauty part quite well in this film, and there’s even a Jessica Simpson vibe going on there.
Ultimately, Spacey’s performance as Darin is outstanding. He plays Darin through most of his life, does the singing, does the dancing, and the risks that he takes in the film are worth the reward. The story does fall into some predictable areas (like the 2nd act where the main character tries to face his conflict and his eventual re-emergence to an adoring crowd), but if you can accept the stretches and dramatic interpretations, it’s quite an enjoyable movie.
Because the music is such a driving force in the film, it was key that it sounded good, Spacey’s vocals aside. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very powerful and crystal clear, with plenty of surround sound effects and a good deal of LFE activity through your subwoofer if you have one. The big band music and almost crooning quality of Spacey’s voice sounds much better overall than I expected.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of this film looks really good. There is more black here than one would expect, but the levels are sharp, and they even reproduce a wide color palette in the film, Darin’s yellow suit really stands out from the crowd and looks vaguely 3 dimensional. All in all this may be the best looking Lion’s Gate release yet.
For as good as the audio and video look, the extras are pretty lacking. There’s a 15 minute featurette that covers a little bit of everything but doesn’t stay on topic for too long. The cast and crew discuss the production and the musical aspects of the film, including the song and dance. It’s quick and easy stuff that you don’t really have to watch. Aside from that, Spacey and producer Andy Paterson contribute a commentary track that is surprisingly repetitive. Every other Spacey sentence seems to include the words “this is where” and a pretty bland description of things that occurred behind the scenes. There weren’t too many production details that emerged from this track, and it’s pretty underwhelming.
At the end of the day, while Beyond the Sea doesn’t measure up to other quality biopics in recent years, it still boasts remarkable performances by Bosworth and Spacey, and could lead to more exploration into the life of a charismatic star. Definitely worth renting, and fans of big band music will enjoy the 5.1 soundtrack.
Special Features List
- Director/Producer Commentary
- Making of Featurette