From Cole Porter to Peter Sellers to the late Ray Charles, Hollywood has been awash with biopics this year. So much so that the prospect of another is about as welcome as a toaster in a hot tub. After all, we know the drill by now: a meteoric rise from rags to riches; professional success counterbalanced by private turmoil; marriages destroyed by egotism and excess. Surely there must be some celebrities out there whose lives don't turn to crap? Well, of course there are. But who wants to see movies about them?
It's a question that could also be asked about Bobby Darin, a name not likely to ring-a-ding-ding too many bells for modern audiences. He may have topped the charts with 'Mack The Knife' and 'Splish Splash', but his fame had waned even before his premature demise at the age of 37. That's one strike against Kevin Spacey, director, producer and leading man of Beyond The Sea. Another is Kevin himself, who at 45 can only offer an approximation of Darin's boyish good looks.
The actor acknowledges as much, slyly sneaking in an early line about Bobby being too old to play himself in a screen take on his life. Spacey spends the rest of the picture convincing us otherwise, crooning and hoofing fit to bust from beneath a prosthetic conk and ink-black rug. And he movingly sketches Darin's later crisis of confidence, typified by his doomed attempts to reinvent himself as a Dylanesque folkie.
By the end of the film you have to admit he's the only man for the job. But should he have bothered? Darin's life was certainly a dramatic one: extreme family problems, failing heart, a turbulent marriage to pert starlet Sandra Dee. But it's not a story that grows any more resonant for the retelling.
Spacey's opus works best as a nostalgic pageant - a vivid tableau of musical numbers, spirited dance sequences and vibrant, pitch-perfect recreations of the fashions and fittings of the period. Unless you share his passion for Darin, though, it's Citizen Kane without a Rosebud.
Visually, Spacey's labour of love is a treat, while his love of Bobby Darin is palpable. But it's all too MOR to be inspirational.
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