Making the Grades
What would you do if you were told you wouldn't live beyond your fifteenth birthday? Well, if you were Walden Robert Cassotto (William Ullrich) and had Polly (Brenda Blethyn), a former Vaudeville singer as a mother, you'd make a plan.
Her vision includes encouraging the Rheumatic Fever victim to take refuge in the world of music and dreams of stardom. On better days, the ever-optimistic mom teaches him to sing, dance and play a piano bought by his hard-working and penny-pinching brother-in-law Charlie (Bob Hoskins). All the while his adoring older sister Nina (Caroline Aaron) plays the part of number one fan to the sickly youngster.
Miraculously surviving past his adolescence, the boy from the Bronx sails off determined to become bigger than Frank Sinatra. Despite all the family support inflating his ego, the wannabe entertainer soon discovers he has a few anchors weighing him down. In particular, a hot head, a weak heart, and a lousy stage name. He fixes the simplest of these problems by calling himself Bobby Darin (now played by Kevin Spacey). Then, almost as easily, he achieves celebrity status when a silly song he composed in less than 20 minutes makes a huge Splish Splash on the pop music charts.
Riding the wave of his fame, the music man peruses various styles and branches into movies. While on the set of Come September, he meets leading lady Sandra Dee (Kate Boswell). Famous for her roles in the Gidget and Tammy series, the blonde beauty is the epitome of the all-American girl. Convinced she is his Dream Lover, Bobby makes a new plan to woo and wed the glittery starlet. Even though Sandra has little interest in the arrogant upstart at first, he eventually charms the princess in what appears to be a perfect Hollywood fairytale.
However, stormy seas threaten happily-ever-after as the famous couple tries to fit two careers into one marriage. Competing ambitions, growing family obligations, professional setbacks, alcohol abuse and health concerns all take their toll. Yet nothing is as devastating to Bobby as the identity crisis he faces after the single revelation of a long held secret.
Visually illustrating Bobby Darin's struggle to find himself, the moviemakers creatively use scenes where the grown man (Spacey) talks with his inner child (Ullrich). Their conversations help to narrate the story that is told mostly in flashback, as well as attempt to extract meaning from his life. Although this is artistically very clever, the fantasy element it introduces contributes to the film's overall vaporous feeling. Much like his hit song Mack the Knife (which sports an upbeat tempo while the morbid lyrics describe a murderer), the fluffy lounge singer act contradicts the deeper themes we glimpse just beneath the surface.
This problem may be even greater for families. The swooning tunes and musical montages present a strange contrast to the film's many profanities (including two uses of a sexual expletive), constant smoking by all of the main characters, sexual dialogue and relations between a husband and wife (both carefully clothed so as not to reveal too much), and characters' angry outbursts leading to property damage.
Written by Kevin Spacey, directed by Kevin Spacey, acted by Kevin Spacey, and lead vocals by Kevin Spacey, there is little question Kevin Spacey respects the legendary talent he is representing. Despite past efforts to bring the project to the screen and criticism that at forty-five he is too old to play the part (a fact he wittedly tries to dismiss by having the script address the issue), Kevin Spacey forges on to give a remarkable performance. And in a backhanded kind of way, his passion becomes the fatal flaw of Beyond the Sea. His personal accomplishment as an actor and the use his own voice for the sound track, inadvertently steals the spotlight in this film and robs his tribute to Bobby Darin.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Beyond the Sea.
A disclaimer is run during the closing credits of this film, acknowledging the movie is not a factual account of the singer’s life. One of the most obvious departures from reality is the lack of mention of Bobby and Sandra’s divorce, or Bobby’s later marriage to another woman (both a matter of record). Why do you think the scriptwriters choose to ignore these events? Is it possible to tell a good story about someone’s life without juggling truth?
To learn more about the real Bobby Darin, check out this website: http://www.history-of-rock.com/bobby_darin.htm.