Beyond the Sea (2004)

Starring: Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Greta Scacchi, Brenda Blethyn

Directed by: Kevin Spacey

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Kevin Spacey directs and stars in Beyond the Sea

Beyond the Sea is a biopic about 1950s swinging smoothie Bobby Darin, the man behind the perennial hits 'Dream Lover', 'Splish Splash' and, of course, 'Beyond the Sea'. However, right from the start, the film makes it clear that this is to be no factual, blow by blow account of Darin's life. 'Memories are moonbeams,' Spacey explains with a knowing wink, 'they're ours to do what we like with.' And Spacey certainly weaves a charming fantasy around Darin's life story. Taking the same approach as Finding Neverland director Marc Forster, he clearly believes that the best way to tell an emotional truth is through fantastic fiction.

As if to underline this point, Spacey's film about Darin's life opens on the set of a film Darin himself is making about his own life ('Aren't you a bit old for the part?' a journalist asks, voicing the concerns of the entire audience. Well, yes, but we'll let that pass for now.) Unsure how to approach the project, he turns to the child actor who is to play him as a small boy. Except that this is no ordinary child: the small boy is Darin's younger self, and together the pair embark on a colourful, charming and touching journey through the singer's life.

It's a cute conceit and works well, adding a sense of shape and cohesion to a film that could otherwise have seemed a bit disjointed. The result? An old fashioned song and dance movie in the style of A Star is Born held together by a postmodern, self-conscious structure that allows Spacey to set himself free from the constraints of realism and wallow unashamedly in nostalgic musical numbers. (Does that sound a bit pretentious? Trust me, that's not how it seems.)

Song and dance man - Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea

Like Don Juan DeMarco or Big Fish's Edward Bloom, Darin tells the truth about his life through fantasy. And so we're treated to wonderful sequences involving 1940s guys and dolls dancing through the streets of the Bronx Oliver style to illustrate the young Bobby's growing love of music and performance, or chic 1950s society types waltzing round Italian fountains to illustrate his courtship of film star Sandra Dee.

In the end, of course, Spacey could have said anything about Darin and most of us would have been none the wiser. How much do you know about him? I knew he sang 'Beyond the Sea' and, well, that's about it, really. I certainly didn't know he was married to Sandra Dee (of 'Look at me, I'm.' fame), that he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, or that he was a great supporter of JFK and turned to writing protest songs during the Vietnam war.

It has to be said, Darin is not obvious biopic material. Generally these kind of movies deal with the rise and fall of their central protagonists (think The People vs Larry Flynt, Blow or the aforementioned A Star is Born) but Darin never really does fall - or not that far anyway. Sure, he loses his hair, grows a nasty 'tache and gets booed off stage at one point, but he never undergoes a drink-sozzled, drug-addled, peanut butter and bacon sandwich dead on the toilet stage (oops, was that a spoiler?). However, Spacey's performance is so compelling, so energetic and credible (especially in the latter stages of the film) that my interest was held throughout.

Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin and Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee in Beyond the Sea

This is clearly a labour of love for Spacey, and he throws himself heart and soul into the role, performing all the vocals himself and displaying some pretty nifty footwork too. Although, as I may have mentioned before, it does take rather more of a leap of faith than we can muster ten minutes into the film to see the forty-odd Spacey as a naïve youth of twenty, he really comes into his own as the older Darin, struggling to make sense of the events of his life and work out who he really is as his health deteriorates.

Spacey has assembled a good, solid cast around him. Orlando Bloom's girlfriend Kate Bosworth is perfect as the naïve and ever so slightly vacuous Sandra Dee, whilst Greta Scacchi almost steals the show as her nightmare showbiz mom. And it's good to see stalwart performers John Goodman and Bob 'Oskins back on the silver screen - where have you been, guys?

All in all, the perfect movie for a cold Sunday afternoon: fun and frothy, moving, entertaining and uplifting, it'll send you out of the cinema singing. 'My lover stands on golden sands.. dah dah dah.'

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