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Beyond The Sea
cast: Kevin Spacey, Brenda Blethyn, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, and Greta Scacchi

writer, producer, and director: Kevin Spacey

118 minutes (12) 2004 widescreen ratio 16:9
EIV DVD Region 2 rental / retail
Also available to rent or buy on video

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Andrew Darlington
"In the era of cool, he was the soundtrack..."

Moviemakers love biopics. Always have. Biographical-pictures, from Al Jolson, Glenn Miller, through The Doors and Jerry Lee Lewis, and on... But they can only ever replicate. The best they can achieve is a close approximation. And an artist - after all, is unique that's what makes them artists. That's the problem with tribute bands. They can aspire to simulate, but the best they can ever be is 'near'. And who needs a good substitute? Sure, as a crash-course when the original's no longer available, a speed-read, or a career primer, biopics can be useful. Perhaps that's enough? And Kevin Spacey comes closer than most. His subject, and personal vanity project - Bobby Darin, was sporadically high profile, but too much of a quick-change chameleon to ever totally dominate his era. And movie compression over-stresses the supper club lounge-lizard aspects of his career over his more interesting rock and pop moments. I guess editing and life streamlining is a necessary fiction? So yes, there's "the voice: the passion: the confidence," as it says on the box. But for the non-initiate Darin-virgin, not a great deal more.

The screenplay opens at the Coconut Grove where a "brash, cocky and arrogant" Darin encounters his younger self. "You're playing me?" he asks. "I am you," says Little Bobby, "you want some truth, I'll give you some truth..." And time warps them back to 1940s' Bronx with knowing talk-over, street dance routines ("I know, it's a fantasy sequence"), and mood-enhancing black-and-white TV inserts. From that point on the story is fairly straightforward, the obvious plot-hook about his 'Mom' really being his Gran, and drag-act 'sister' Nina his real mother is clamped down until later. That could usefully have been trailered, or at least planted as a 'secret tease' by the narrator-voice. Instead the peg is pretty much left to 'Sir Splish-Splash' versus Sandra Dee (she's already a rising starlet of the Gidget and Tammy films). "There goes the girl I'm going to marry," he brags as he meets 'Sandie' doing a Rock Hudson movie-shoot together in Italy, with one eye on how the Darin-Dee celebrity tie-in would look in the fan-mags, and romancing her to an extended Beyond The Sea dance sequence. Her mother would have preferred her to link up with Rock Hudson - some hope! In a snigger of retro-awareness, of course we know - but they didn't, that he-man Hudson was gay. Nevertheless, Darin's pushy charm wins out. A stormy marriage follows, until they're competing for who-leaves-who first, set to slapstick comic pacing.

The real Sandra Dee, a child-star troubled victim of child-abuse, alcoholism and anorexia, died 20th February 2005, shortly after Beyond The Sea premieres. And in real life they divorced in 1967. But hey, this is a movie. Here Darin is reconciled with his Sandie. He makes his peace with his mother-sister. And he leaves a personalised legacy for son Dodd 'Moose' Darin, while the second movie-theme is developing around Darin's growing political awareness. First glimpsed when he opens pilled-up at the Copacabana with Hello Young Lovers, but insists on black comedian George Kirby opening for him, against the management's more segregationalist opposition. This leads into his radical alliance with Robert Kennedy as part of an increasingly divided 'country at war'. Jotting the lyrics for Simple Song Of Freedom into the margins of The Los Angeles Times around the Vietnam draft headlines, his lines "we the people here don't want a war" returning now with renewed relevance in this year of Iraq.

But no, the real movie-theme has got to be that of artifice. Firstly 'Bobby Darin' is an escapist persona deliberately assembled by sickly Italian-American kid Walden Robert Cassotto as a vehicle to propel him to stardom - at one point he insists to producer Ahmet Ertegun "when the delivery guy knows me, then I'm a star!" And he becomes that star. Until his life crashes down, with Kennedy's assassination coinciding with the final revelation of his confused parentage, which tears apart his own sense of identity; the artifice behind the structured artifice of stardom. Which becomes Spacey's parting shot. The true Bobby Cassotto is dead. But the fiction he created persists. This DVD is more than just a biopic - it is that persistence.

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