Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hear What You Sea

I have no special love for Bobby Darin, or Kevin Spacey, for that matter. But we'd heard good things about Beyond the Sea (2004), and gave it a shot. What we got was Fellini in swingtime.

It starts with Bobby (Kevin Spacey) singing his big hit "Mack the Knife" in a nightclub, but he calls "cut" before the end and the director tells the audience to take 10. You see, they are making a TV special for Darin's 10th year in show biz. It's all a show within a show - the kid who plays Bobby as a boy is introduced as "the kid who plays Bobby as a boy." Then we go into the past to find the kid dying of rheumatic fever, and being a reason to live by his mother: music. Soon enough, he's playing the Copacabana and starring in movies with Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth).

Darin's romancing of Dee is a cool mix of Hollywood magic and backstage real life. It seems that he truly loved her, but maybe just because a guy like Bobby Darin should have a teen idol like Dee for a wife. The movie takes a sympathetic look at Dee, but doesn't look too deeply, maybe because Bobby doesn't.

But it's his later life that I found most interesting. As America moves into the 60s, night club crooning begins to go out of style and Darin starts to think about re-inventing himself. He wants to get into politics with the Kennedys, but that doesn't end well. He winds up living alone in a trailer in Big Sur, writing folk songs and communing with the stars and the sea. But when he tries to make a comeback as a sincere folk singer, he bombs. That's when he has the insight: "People hear what they see." So he puts on the toupee and tux, heads back to the Copa and mounts his "simple song" as big production number with a gospel choir. Bobby is back!

Darin's late career is fun because he wants to be cool and with it, but he really isn't - or is he? Look, he really cared about race and war and tried to follow the path of truth and righteousness, but you know, that's just not him. He's a lounge lizard, a club dweller, a swinging cat. And that's that.

Spacey famously sings all of the songs, and he is great, a fantastic tribute. He is also famously too old (and plain in the face) to play Darin, but he works with that - this is an absurd Fellini-esque production. Like his brother, who is played by Bob Hoskins, even as a kid.

In conclusion, there is a lot of affection for Darin, Sandra Dee and their son Dodd. The credits include a "where are they now", which says that Sandra Dee still loves Bobby Darin. It was true when they made the movie but she died less than a year later. Darin died much younger, but I hope he loved her the same way.

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