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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.56%
Worth A Look33.9%
Just Average: 13.56%
Pretty Crappy33.9%
Sucks: 5.08%

7 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Beyond the Sea
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Marc Kandel

"Balls. Solid, Stainless Steel Balls here folks."
4 stars

That’s what this stunt took. What an insane premise. Who co-writes, directs & stars in a musical biopic on Bobby Darin of all people? Then, to expect a modern day audience to sit and watch it? Shit, anytime I heard that name prior to this, I thought that was the guy who sang “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and I ran like hell (my wife smacked me when I told her this- Hard). But what a nice surprise- This is a project of love that is not in love with itself, and fine entertainment for anyone who wants to give it a try.

I’m not a musical guy; particularly not a movie musical guy. Fell asleep in “Chicago.” Still have uncontrollable spasms if I turn a TV on and “Grease 2” is playing- even on mute. The “Reproduction” number alone once caused me to swallow my tongue. Loathe the original “Grease”- loathe it- all you thousands of karaoke assholes and actors who played Danny or Kulnicki (Whatever the fuck his name is- I’m not even going to waste time looking it up) or Rizzo in high school… Well, Fuck you. Fuck you all. I’m sick of hearing about it. Final word: “Grease” blows. In fact, from now on, I’m referring to it and its sick-inducing sequel as “Astroglide” and “Astroglide 2: Pocahontas’s Revenge.”

So in summation, unless there’s a swastika kickline or a molesting uncle’s adventures set to music by The Who, movie musicals typically are not my thing. But Kevin Spacey has won me over and birthed a beautiful, captivating picture through some truly hard work that mirrors the extreme work-ethic of his idol, the amazingly talented, driven, defiant Bobby Darin. Now is it true to the man’s life? Am I really a fly on the wall throughout every fact and facet of this person’s existence? Well, I have no idea. Like I said, I didn’t know who the hell this guy was. I went into this film with no knowledge that would allow me to extract dramatic license from solid biographical information. And it doesn’t matter. Now I know who Bobby Darin is, or rather, what he was all about. Oh yes, I certainly do. And I had a really great time learning- couldn’t take my eyes off it.

In a nutshell- Darin was born Walden Robert Cassotto, a pale, sickly, boy stricken with rheumatic fever at an early age leaving him with a weak heart that doctors said would not take him beyond age fifteen if he was lucky to even reach that age. His mother, Polly, gives Robert something to look forward to other than death, something to love and sustain him- music. Bobby quickly emulates his mother’s love of performance, of song, and soon surpasses her in his quest not just to live, but to become a legend, a performer whose name is on everyone’s lips. By age 22, an age nobody thought he’d hope to make, Cassotto, now rechristened Bobby Darin (through the inspiration of a half lit neon sign that I won’t ruin for you), begins to burn through a sweep of success unparalleled by most of his contemporaries- within a startling 7 years Darin writes hundreds of songs, performs to sold out audiences at all the best of the best venues, grabs two Grammys, an Oscar Nomination, becomes the biggest box-office draw of his time, and marries the girl of his dreams, Sandra Dee, Hollywood’s “It” girl of the day (the marriage, I have learned has been quite embellished for the film- certainly strained yet not the lasting love portrayed on screen- okay, big whoop- you can pretty much tell by the end of the credits this isn’t exactly the history channel- or even “E True Hollywood Stories” for that matter).

Spacey’s clever narrative has Bobby filming his auto biopic and divides Bobby Darin into his two identities- Walden Cassotto- forever the child whose heart can’t take him beyond his childhood dreams and Bobby Darin the immortal, the legend that lives on through his work and passions- the two support each other, anchor each other, care for each other push each other away, and become the chorus of the film, ready to break away from the realistic biography at a moment’s notice for a musical number or some sudden reflection on where they are in their lives. Spacey knows when to use the music, when to leave it behind for a while in favor of a more linear drama, and most wisely of all, avoids tedium, cheesiness, and plain stupidity by not having every other line be a springboard into a dopey musical number- the ultimate crime. Instead, the points where the drama veers off into the musical are carefully selected and interwoven so that the musical numbers, the straight story, and the pull-away interplay between Bobby’s two selves always complement, never contradict or disintegrate the through-line of the film. In fact, by the latter half, the music is completely left behind, reflecting the turmoil of Bobby’s failing marriage, health, career, and shattering revelations about his past and who he really is.

What seems to be the typical Hollywood success story gone wrong, the blossoming, tempestuous, doomed, reconciled romance tale, the odds defying tale of overcoming obstacles, all tied up in the spectacle of a Broadway show is carefully blended together to produce something not entirely new, but full of flavors both familiar and comfortable with an edge and momentum that never succumbs to “Feel Good” dopiness, or even worse, “Tear Jerker” manipulation. It’s a fine line to tread, mere centimeters between a lifetime film about some hapless cripple and a direct to video Disney sequel.

Spacey is careful in his choices, cunning in his approach and charming as hell in his performance- even when Darin is being an egotistical, selfish, insecure pain in the ass, which makes the character all the more palatable to me. Darin is not a sparkle toothed bright-eyed success. He sports more hairpieces that Batman has bat-suits, he rigidly controls his career path spurning a ridiculously easy entrance into the Rock and Roll world in favor of being able to master the lounge/big band style of music one moment, and then refusing to play his hits in an attempt to re-invent himself as an anti-war folk singer in the Vietnam era in another. He barely has a moment to care about his wife’s successes compared to his relentless focus on his own, trumping her magazine cover copy with tons of copies of his magazine feature. This is a man who knows what he wants despite having trouble reconciling who he is, and will not settle for anything less than total success in every avenue he pursues. Spacey knows that even though the music and Bobby’s overcoming the odds are key factors, they are less important than watching the man himself work and push and claw to experience the joy of doing what he does best- and when he exults in those moments we are happy for him as well as with him. We are not spoon-fed syrupy ballads designed to provoke joy, we simply watch joy unfold every time Darin takes the stage or bursts into song- its his best, purest way of expressing himself- and it’s a sincere expression, not a gimmick.

Much of that sincerity comes from Spacey’s portrayal- his love of the character is immediately evident. His commitment to the character overcomes the obvious age discrepancies- this man is determined to channel Darin, and hey, who am I to say he didn’t? I certainly bought it- when Spacey isn’t excelling at acting in the non-musical elements of the story, he’s shaking up the screen with some really dazzling song and dance numbers. It’s a helluva thing to behold- a real celebration of his hero. Anything less would have been a disaster and fortunately Spacey’s got the goods to do Darin justice. Again, I must point out that as a director he’s restrained enough to know when the music needs to be left behind, which he does through quite a stretch of the film, and when its time to pick up the beat again. Not every moment needs to be garnished with a song, and through this judicious use of music, we get a much more rounded film than the clumsy, jarring breaks into song that often accompany most musicals.

There’s not a weak performance in the bunch- everybody’s brought their best to the table- Bob Hoskins as Bobby’s lovable, crude yet adoring brother-in-law Charlie, John Goodman as his manager Steve- at once hilarious and canny as only Goodman can be, Kate Bosworth as Sandra Dee, his loving, combative, equally insecure, supportive wife; and now I can appreciate her as a good choice for Lois Lane- she does a fine job here- full of spunk yet intensely vulnerable at the same time, and William Ullrich as Bobby’s young self- all at once his guide, guardian angel, and core identity that defines his perceptions of the world, and most important, not a precocious asswipe. Everybody’s great, with extra special nods also going to Bobby’s sister and Mother- Caroline Aaron as the curiously overbearing, secretly tormented Nina Cassotto Maffia and Brenda Bleythn as the loving, inspiring Polly Cassotto, respectively. Both women create a great relationship to Bobby, and are pivotal to his growth and identity- even when they turn it inside out, providing some of the films most touching, intriguing moments.

This could have easily been the vanity project to end all vanity projects and if mentioned alongside “K-Pax” and “Pay it Forward” in the same sentence, more than enough evidence for a committal for Kevin Spacey complete with genital-shock treatments- I half expected to see 2 hours of Spacey admiring himself in a hand mirror, picking his teeth with his pinky while humming “Splish Splash.” Instead we have a wonderful, energized throwback to the days of the real Hollywood cinematic musicals and a fascinating drama to boot- neither choice getting in the way of the other. There is balance here. And more fun and heart than I could have ever anticipated.

So check it out- leave your qualms or your nervous expectations at the door- remember- I like Sci Fi and Horror with a dollop of Action and a sprig of Drama- this is not my usual fare, and I loved it.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10633&reviewer=358
originally posted: 06/23/05 17:25:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/18/15 Carol Beyond dreadful. 1 stars
2/14/08 vmd A self serving piece of poo=poo 2 stars
12/01/07 Charles Tatum Spacey's film is nothing short of amazing 5 stars
5/25/07 Andii Great film, great music what more could you want 5 stars
11/17/06 BoyInTheDesignerBubble My favorite actor directs the worst movie ever made. 1 stars
9/17/06 Phil M. Aficionado Clumsy is the right word for this one; it doesn't build or stay on track. Has the jitters 3 stars
7/14/06 JM Synth Arguably more enjoyable than "Ray" 4 stars
9/02/05 Joe Branagan Great Film 5 stars
7/04/05 HL Thoroughly enjoyable! 4 stars
2/28/05 Darlene Fredericks Kevin Spacey/Bobby Darin are ONE!!!! 5 stars
12/22/04 Josie A truly beautiful, uplifting & joyous film with an amazing performance from Kevin Spacey. 5 stars
12/18/04 Arnold Handler Terrific, sensitive film about a singer I first appreciate now. 5 stars
12/05/04 Bill Merrill Overacted, underwritten, ill-conceived tripe 1 stars
11/16/04 Ralph Woolsey ASC Tour-de-force for KS; all depts. top-notch 5 stars
10/02/04 Les Best film of the year! 5 stars
9/19/04 A Lofsky Very Disappointing 2 stars
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  17-Dec-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 07-Jun-2005



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