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Overall Rating

Awesome: 13.56%
Worth A Look33.9%
Average: 13.56%
Pretty Bad33.9%
Total Crap: 5.08%

7 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Beyond the Sea
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by Scott Weinberg

"A biopic made by a fan and not by a committee of studio suits. Cool."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2004 TORONTO FILM FESTIVAL: There's one dismissive approach to "Beyond the Sea" that seems a bit too easy for me to swallow: that actor/director Kevin Spacey is too old/too bald/too familiar to cast himself in a Bobby Darin biopic, and those who adhere to those opinions will certainly have a leg or two to stand upon. But I prefer the reaction perhaps less-traveled: that, after several years and many failed attempts, Mr. Spacey was finally able to get some funding for this, his pet project, and the Oscar-winner was still fully intent on playing the lead role. And after seeing the passion and the exuberance with which Mr. Spacey has mounted his half-conventional/half-oddball biopic, one walks away thinking...all things considered, good job, Kevin!

In Hollywood, pet projects can metamorphize into ungainly vanity pieces at the flip of a switch. While Beyond the Sea features Kevin Spacey in virtually every single scene, it quickly becomes clear that this is not just a case of a well-known actor trying to wedge himself into the spotlight; Spacey clearly has a distinct respect and affection for the memory of old-school crooner Bobby Darin, and that emotion virtually pours from the screen in buckets.

While surviving an illness-intensive childhood with the help from his doting mother, loving sister and goofy brother-in-law, Walden Robert Cassotto grew up with a deep passion for the performing arts. Singing, dancing, name it. Despite being warned that he probably wouldn't live past adolescence, Robert bucked the odds and made a beeline for the lounge circuit once he was old enough to get past the bouncers.

Thus begins the short but fascinating adventure of Mr. Bobby ("Mack the Knife") Darin, the details of which may seem familiar to those with an affection for movie-style biopics, but Spacey (the director) gives Spacey (the actor) a whole lot of amusing stuff to do. Those who've just settled in for a traditional sort of cinematic biography may be pleasantly surprised with a street full of Bobby's New York neighbors kick in with a rousing little musical number. And if you enjoyed that one, just sit back and relax, because Spacey frequently interrupts his narrative with a variety of upbeat song and dance sequences. These scenes repeatedly jam a shot of adrenalin into a movie that could very easily have muddled into treacle town.

Another somewhat unique conceit is how Spacey, playing the middle-aged Bobby D., will sometimes speak directly to the young Robert Cassotto, which helps to offer a little more insight into the man while also bridging the movie's "present" and "past" quite cleverly.

As far as the onscreen Spacey is concerned, heck. I suppose I'll just have to throw myself upon the fandom sword. Barring a few of his post-Oscar performances, I consider Kevin Spacey one of the best actors working today. Period. While that wouldn't stop me from being critical if necessary, it also makes me a bit more predisposed towards giving K.S. the benefit of the doubt when many others may not. Basically, Kevin Spacey does not really look or sound like Bobby all. But honestly, who cares? Better to have an actor compelled by respect and admiration than to have an actor who simply "looks" the part.

What Spacey may lack in physical similarity, he more than makes up for in showmanship. The actor approaches this beloved role with a spring in his step, a song in his heart, and a cocksure confidence that's all but entirely appealing. Plus, and this should be a surprise to those who know Mr. Spacey only from his most high-profile movie roles, this guy can actually sing! And dance! Well! So you can either sit there with your arms folded, muttering about the obvious physical discrepancies between Bobby and Kevin, or you can overlook the surface stuff and begin to appreciate an actor who's working really hard on something that's clearly important to him.

Spacey has a good eye for the supporting roles: we get great supporting performances from the likes of John Goodman, Bob Hoskins and Greta Scacchi, plus the plum role of Mrs. Bobby Darin (a.k.a. Sandra Dee) goes to the severely lovely and surprisingly talented Kate Bosworth. (Yes, she's a bit young to be playing the wife of a Kevin Spacey character, but movies are, y'know, not the real thing. Plus Bosworth really fits the role quite perfectly.)

Due to its fractured framework and musical inspirations, Beyond the Sea will undoubtedly be compared to the Cole Porter flick De-Lovely from a few months back. But while the Porter story was portentous and more than a little dreary, Beyond the Sea crackles with commitment and all but oozes affection for its subject matter. There are so many ways that Spacey could have delivered a dud here, but that just goes to show what a healthy dose of sincerity can do for a film.

Sure, the movie does stumble over a few of those oh-so-familiar biopic speed bumps, but on the whole "Beyond the Sea" flies a lot more than it falls. Spacey deserves a round of applause for risking some real ridicule with this project, to say nothing of the fact that he turned out a pretty damn good movie overall.

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originally posted: 09/28/04 07:39:16
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/19/15 Carol Beyond dreadful. 1 stars
2/15/08 vmd A self serving piece of poo=poo 2 stars
12/02/07 Charles Tatum Spacey's film is nothing short of amazing 5 stars
5/26/07 Andii Great film, great music what more could you want 5 stars
11/18/06 BoyInTheDesignerBubble My favorite actor directs the worst movie ever made. 1 stars
9/18/06 Phil M. Aficionado Clumsy is the right word for this one; it doesn't build or stay on track. Has the jitters 3 stars
7/15/06 JM Synth Arguably more enjoyable than "Ray" 4 stars
9/03/05 Joe Branagan Great Film 5 stars
7/05/05 HL Thoroughly enjoyable! 4 stars
3/01/05 Darlene Fredericks Kevin Spacey/Bobby Darin are ONE!!!! 5 stars
12/23/04 Josie A truly beautiful, uplifting & joyous film with an amazing performance from Kevin Spacey. 5 stars
12/19/04 Arnold Handler Terrific, sensitive film about a singer I first appreciate now. 5 stars
12/06/04 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
10/03/04 Les Best film of the year! 5 stars
9/20/04 A Lofsky Very Disappointing 2 stars
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  17-Dec-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 07-Jun-2005



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