Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin biopic Beyond The Sea is riddled with holes, but no one can say that its director-star lacks brass. Spacey is older now than Darin was when he died, but any visual or generational discrepancies get explained away in the movie's conceptual opening scene, which sets up Beyond The Sea as some kind of fantasy docudrama directed by Darin, perhaps from beyond the grave. If details don't match and characters don't look right, it's because people fix up the facts of their lives in retrospect. And after all, it's only a movie.
What audiences get out of Beyond The Sea will depend on what they expect. Fans of Bobby Darin will likely be disappointed. Darin is one of the most fascinating pop singers of the rock era. He started his career with the novelty hit "Splish Splash," then jumped to more sophisticated swing music like "Mack The Knife." He became a respected, Academy Award-nominated actor, then ditched Hollywood and reinvented himself as a politically committed folksinger. He had a tangled family history, an on-again/off-again love affair with teen queen Sandra Dee, and a congenital heart condition that constantly threatened his life. Just before dying in 1973, Darin remade himself once again, into a multi-faceted Vegas performer with cross-generational appeal.
Spacey covers all this in Beyond The Sea, but in a cursory way—he doesn't even mention Darin's mid-career Top 10 cover of Tim Hardin's "If I Were A Carpenter," which signaled a switch to folk-rock a few years before Spacey would have it. Unlike the recent musician biopic Ray, Beyond The Sea doesn't really get into the nuts and bolts of music-making. Spacey plays Darin's stylistic restlessness as practically arbitrary, and shows next to nothing of Darin's almost pathological need to stay current, musically and politically. Instead, Spacey considers Darin's life as the case of a free-spirited maverick who literally kept himself alive by getting onstage, by any means necessary. Even though Spacey looks faintly ridiculous inserting himself into Darin's life, and trying to sing and dance like a 25-year-old, the embarrassingly exuberant cabaret act makes a point. What seems to matter to Spacey is that Darin loved to perform, just like Spacey, and that he'd try anything, just like Spacey. Anyone who thinks Beyond The Sea is a movie about Bobby Darin isn't paying close enough attention.