Beyond the Sea
by Chris Wood
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When was the last time you left the movie theater snapping your fingers, whistling and tapping your feet? Perhaps not too often, but Beyond the Sea, the biopic about the life of Bobby Darin, delivers just that feel. This movie goes down as smooth as “two fingers” of Scotch with cool musical numbers, the witty repartee of the time period and a good story (love and life) with a shocking twist about Darin toward the end.
It starts with the adult Darin (Kevin Spacey, Usual Suspects) walking down the back hall to the showroom stage with his crew: manager Steve “Boom-Boom” Blauner (John Goodman, Father of the Pride), publicist David Gershenson (Matt Rippy, Beginners Luck), band leader Dick Behrke (Peter Cincotti, Spiderman 2), and his “sort of” stepfather Charlie Cassotto Maffia (Bob Hoskins, Vanity Fair). The bass line to his famed “Mack the Knife” is playing and Darin is puffing on a cigar. The curtain is pulled and, “those scarlet billows, start to form,” until Darin calls, “Cut!” Actually, he screams it. Then the magic dust of Hollywood disappears and it is apparent that this is a movie set and that Darin is someone never satisfied—a perfectionist.
He and his team have a “powwow” where they all are trying to decide the best way to begin telling the life story of Bobby Darin. “Boom-Boom” says to stay with the hits, but a kid who is playing the child version of Bobby Darin (William Ullrich), steers him on the right track. Like Dickens’ David Copperfield, the best place to begin is, well, in the beginning.
So now viewers are transported back to Bobby at age seven in the Bronx, NY, circa 1939. Here, Bobby, whose actual name was Walden Robert Cassotto, is stricken with rheumatic fever which damages his heart. Doctor’s say if he lives to be sixteen it would be a miracle, but as it turned out performing would be the little pill to keep his ticker going.
His mother, Polly Cassotto (Brenda Blethyn, A River Runs Through It) taught the ailing child all she knew about her Vaudeville days and it shows how he picked up the piano, drums, dancing, acting, etc. Then, as the movie does at many points, a “song and dance” routine kicks in as transition for Bobby, still as Walden, going to the “Big Apple” to be more famous than Sinatra and play the Copacabana Nightclub.
Spacey does an excellent job at putting himself in Darin’s very talented shoes and does the singing in the movie himself. Also, Darin was a cool/funny person—maybe a second cousin to the Rat Pack—and Spacey, known for his lightning fast dialogue and distinguishable voice and look, made it feel like he wasn’t being projected on a movie screen, but like he was there in the theater. Not much of a shocker given his caliber of acting in previous roles.
So Walden becomes Bobby and, “Splish Splash” he’s on stage with a hit and some screaming fans. However, when talking a promoter, he indicates that he’s not made it yet. “What more do you want?” The man asks him. Darin rushes up to a delivery boy and asks, “Hey, do you know who I am?” The Delivery boy tells him, “No,” and brushes past. Darin smiles and says, “When the delivery boy knows who I am, that’s when I’ve made it!”
But according to the movie, no amount of success was enough for Darin, who states during the picture that each day he’s alive is a miracle. So viewers get the urgency with which he wanted to make his mark.
Ah, but there’s no girl yet—no “Dream Lover.” That is until Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth, Blue Crush) enters stage left. Darin and Dee are cast in a movie and the pop singer goes “ga-ga” for the gal. However, this young proper lady has a mother who appears to be attached to her and won’t let her date. Darin, who’s as smooth as the pomade on his toupee arranges a “professional” meeting and sweeps the “Tammy” star off her feet. This is also done with a musical number of appropriately, “Beyond the Sea.”
Bosworth, hanging with some heavy company in this movie, holds her own and during a verbal fight scene between the two, later in the movie when they are married, she snaps those lines right back at Spacey just as fast as he gives them. It was reminiscent of the classic male/female acting duos like Grant and Hepburn in Bringing up Baby. Bosworth also steps into the role of not just a bubbly screen goddess of her time, but a person who had an allegedly difficult time with alcohol for a period. The movie portrays it as the stress of being an actor, mother, wife and having to going on the road with her ever-touring husband.
This movie was fun, sweet, entertaining, informative, touching and for those fans of Darin’s music, a feast for the ears. Accuracy and missing pieces of notable parts of his life, like his divorce to Sandra Dee in 1967, were not touched in the movie. There is a disclaimer at the beginning stating that there was some license taken with the picture and Spacey, as Darin, clues the audience into it by saying, “Memories are like moonbeams… you can do what you want with them.”
Chris Wood is a freelance writer and graduate student for fine arts in creative fiction and non-fiction writing.
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