Cinema Signal:

Bobby Darin
The Hit Singles Collection
Rhino Records

The Ultimate Bobby Darin
Warner Records

. "Beyond the Sea"

In this film bio of a fifties crooner, you have to look beyond more than the sea. Look beyond the fact that Kevin Spacey is singing -- not the singer who is the subject of the movie, Bobby Darin. You might also have to look beyond the picture quality of the movie if the print is anything like the one I saw in an early screening. It was, indeed, an eyesore.

Such quibbles aside, what is evident here is Spacey's huge admiration and feeling for the songbook and style of a pop artist who had enough talent, drive and ambition to overcome physical ailment and reach stardom.

As the film tells us, Walden Robert Cassotto (his real name) was struck at age seven (William Ullrich) by rheumatic fever, a heart damaging disease that cast a life-limiting prognosis over him. Living well beyond the 15 years the doctor predicted as his best life span, he took the taste for music he developed under the tutelage of his mother Polly (Brenda Blethyn) farther than anyone could have expected.

Starting with early gigs in tacky clubs, making it to Vegas, having best friend and manager Steve Blauner (John Goodman) promote him into films as an actor, and then hooking himself into a marriage with teen idol and major heartthrob of the time, Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth), Bobby Darin had the kind of story legends are made of.

Spacey, who has enough talent ammunition to arm a garrison, expands his repertoire into two new arenas: singing and directing. One senses these are moves he's been dying to make.

Using a story technique of recalling Darin's life as though it were a film being cut, criticized and recut on an editing bench by Darin and himself as young Bobbie Cassotto, Spacey as director shows us the framework of the man's drive and his demons, his talent and the ambition of a self-made man charting his comet trail across the entertainment firmament.

Darin made himself known as a rock and roll artist with his 2 million selling singles hit, "Splish Splash," (1958) and, perhaps, sealed his stardom with his lilting arrangement of "Mack the Knife" the following year, earning him a couple of Grammys and becoming his signature song. "Beyond the Sea" (1960) was derived from a French song called "La Mer" and was said to be one of his personal favorites.

His nightclub act led to his headlining at the fabulous Copacabana, then the most important club on the circuit. This was the most meaningful goal of all to him and to the memory of his mother since she told him about it years before. Success and ambition led to a movie career in which he peaked at being nominated for an Academy Award for "Captain Newman, M.D." And, as much as it all sounds like a fairy tale, it's music and movie history.

Watching over him like a protective lion is older sister Nina's (Caroline Aaron) husband Charlie Maffia (Bob Hoskins) whose doting good nature is one of the riches of the story. To represent the delicious movie confection of the time, Sandra Dee, you couldn't do much better today than Kate Bosworth, who acquits herself adorably well and capably here.

But, am I alone in the crowd? For all of Spacey's flawless and devoted showmanship in depicting it, I never quite reached his level of adoration for his subject. Film biography is tough territory or, maybe, it was that lousy print. The opening, in which sympathy for the unhealthy, determined Robert Cassotto was to have been established may have been too confused by cutting technique to allow the solid emotional connection that would have made it more engaging. Whatever it was, something missing prevents me from singing this film's praises.

I can celebrate Darin's life with Spacey but I didn't get pulled into a deeper regard. Spacey's acting technique is all over the film, but perhaps it was too cool and controlled to deliver an emotional connection. The details of Darin's life and the opportunity to check out Spacey's audition tape for his song and dance act are worth the price of admission. If you're a Darin and/or a Spacey fan, this film shouldn't be missed. It's just that where I'm supposed to enthusiastically applaud, I find myself sitting on my hands.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack Album


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