The template I use screwed up this post again, posting the entire thing on the home page. Here's the link to leave a comment: http://www.goretro.com/2017/04/sharing-some-much-overdue-love-for.html
Sharing Some Much Overdue Love for the Bobby Darin Biopic "Beyond the Sea"
Recently I was visiting the Facebook page of a Bobby Darin fan group I follow and was surprised to see some negative comments being tossed around about the only movie made about Darin's life, Beyond the Sea. The guy that started the thread asked if Kevin Spacey (who starred in, directed, and produced the film) was drunk when he wrote the script (his fury was aimed at a scene where Darin is giving a radio interview about his support for Bobby Kennedy and drops the f-bomb, which he claimed never would have happened on AM radio in the 1960s.) Others chimed in by saying they knew other Darin fans that were infuriated by the film and were personally glad they never saw it.
To all of these Debbie downers, I have one thing to say: please remove the stick out of your anus.
I've been wanting to post a review of sorts of Beyond the Sea here on Go Retro for years now but other topics always got in the way. But now seems as good a time as ever to share a little love for the movie and explain why I personally feel it deserves a little more respect, particularly from my fellow Darin fans.
Biopics are a tricky thing to pull off. There have been some that are good, some that are bad (read the review I did last year about the time Don Johnson played Elvis), and some that are just plain ugly. I'd put Beyond the Sea in the good category and I'll even go a step further: it should be in the feel good category as well, because that's exactly how I felt by the time the end credits rolled. Reading the unfair barbs thrown at it on the Facebook group also made me nostalgic for clips of the movie, and now I feel like dusting off my DVD copy and watching it in its entirety again. When compared to the gloomy story lines and never-ending superhero action flicks Hollywood has been giving us in recent years, Beyond the Sea is a breath of fresh air, even if you're not a Darin fan.
Let me also say first and foremost that if it hadn't been for Kevin Spacey and this movie, I'm not sure I would have become the huge Bobby Darin fan that I am. I had a crush on Spacey back in day and followed his career news pretty faithfully for a while. When I learned about the Darin movie project, my knowledge of the "Mack the Knife" singer was very limited. I knew, of course, most of his hits -- "Splish Splash", "Dream Lover" and "Beyond the Sea" to name a few, but I had no inkling of the depth of his career and all that he accomplished. Something that I made a point of doing (other than researching Darin and his life online) was to read the biography that Dodd Darin -- Bobby's son with Sandra Dee -- co-wrote about his parents, "Dream Lovers: the Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee" (an excellent read, by the way, particularly for anyone enamored with the music, movies, and social changes of the mid-century period.)
That way, I wanted to be prepared when Beyond the Sea hit theaters in 2004; I'd know what was truth, what was made up, and what got overlooked in Spacey's film.
I'm the first to admit that it's not a perfect movie. It did gloss over or omit entirely some parts of Darin's life (which I'll get to in a moment.) Ideally, I've always felt that the only way a movie could accurately capture everything about Darin would be in a two-part miniseries format. Also, one of the biggest criticisms about Beyond the Sea was Spacey's age at the time he made the movie, considering that Darin was in his early 20s when his career took off (there's a scene early on that addresses this somewhat awkward detail.) But for the most part, it seemed nothing but sincere to me. Critics panned his efforts as a vanity project, but I can tell you from watching numerous interviews as the movie was about to be released that Spacey is a huge Darin fan and had nothing but the upmost respect for the entertainer's legacy and his family. Besides, Dodd Darin was very pleased with the end result. Here's what he said to the press after the movie was released:
"I'm very happy with the way the film turned out. Kevin loves my dad, and he wanted to do a tribute. My mother [who never remarried after her split from Darin] was speechless for a while after she saw it. It was emotional for her. There was a lot of truth and grit. But she couldn't be happier."
Maybe this is why some Darin fans are infuriated, because his son gave it his blessings? Who knows. Or maybe it's because Spacey took a little more creative approach to telling the entertainer's life story.
The movie begins with Darin, as an adult, actually filming a scene for a movie about his life (a biopic within a biopic) where he's singing "Mack the Knife" but then gets annoyed with his band's playing (which Darin, a perfectionist, was known to do in real life.) He then encounters the kid that will be portraying him as a child and (while having conversations with his "younger self") starts to tell his life story. Oddly enough, the kid was my major complaint about this movie; while I understand Spacey was looking for a little dynamo that could dance, it's pretty obvious that his choice for young Bobby doesn't have a drop of Italian blood in his body...not that it really matters.
The plot then focuses on Darin's childhood (and the pivotal moment where, while suffering from rheumatic fever, he overhears the doctor telling his grandmother Polly that even with the best of care he won't live past teen hood), his drive and ambition, his rise to fame, his "hippie" period where he chucked it all and found his bearings while camping out in Big Sur, and his relationship with Sandra Dee. In fact, the movie has him with Dee up until the end, ignoring the fact that they divorced in 1967 (after Darin became convinced that Dee was having an affair with her co-star, Bill Bixby, from a movie they were making together at the time) and that Darin got remarried in the early '70s to Andrea Yeager. But in all fairness--and how Spacey defends his script--the two never fell out of love with each other, which Dodd Darin talks about in his book. Darin would continue to spend nights over Sandy's house after they divorced, and Dee never even dated anyone else after their marriage ended.
What was missing, and what I wished had been included, is the following:
*His relationship with Connie Francis, his first true love before he met Sandra Dee. Francis's father didn't approve of Darin for some reason and wanted his daughter to focus on her career. He chased after Darin with a gun after he found out the couple had made plans to elope. Francis's autobiography is due to be released later this year, and she recently told People magazine that none of her husbands ever measured up to Darin; he was the love of her life.
*The fact that Darin hosted his own variety show on NBC in the early '70s, called The Bobby Darin Amusement Company.
*The factoids that Darin was a chess whiz and a member of Mensa.
*His last real hit "If I Were a Carpenter" isn't performed in the movie.
But, when the running time is only two hours there's only so much you can include, and these are minor grievances. I heard there were some scenes showing Darin's natural prowess for playing various music instruments that ended up on the cutting room floor (and sadly, were not included an extras on the DVD release.)
Now, for some of the details I was happy to see included...
*The yellow suit that Darin wears when he romances Sandra Dee on the set of Come September. Some say the suit was more of a faded yellow, but I believe Dee herself said it was "canary."
*Dee's mother's disdain at her daughter choosing Darin for a husband (the movie includes the factual line that she should have chosen Rock Hudson instead.)
*Dee's alcoholism leading to rifts in the marriage, although her anorexia and molestation at the hands of her stepfather isn't addressed. The scene where the newlyweds are preparing to sleep together for the first time sort of hints at this, as Dee panics at the prospect of actually having to have sex with her new husband. This leads to a slightly ridiculous scene where Darin appears with a sword and lays it on the bed in between them, assuring her that he won't cross the sword unless she gives him permission to do so.
*Darin's affinity for social justice and civil rights; there's a scene where he insists a nightclub owner treat a black employee with greater respect or he'll start a sit-in.
*Darin's nomination for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Captain Newman, MD (although I doubt he threw a temper tantrum at home after losing, as depicted in the film.)
|The odd scene in question. But isn't the Darins' mid-century home fantastic?|
Nina is my favorite supporting character in this movie. As Darin's mother-in-secret, she tries to hide her heartache about the family scandal, particularly as she witnesses her son's rise to fame, unable to say anything. When Darin introduces his Copacabana audience to his wife instead of Nina, it breaks her heart.
I am glad that the movie did not omit the pivotal life event when Darin finally learned the truth about his parents. This shock was captured beautifully in this scene and I admit it make me choke up a bit the first time I saw the movie. And the snippet of Rolling Stones playing in the background at one point is no accident; Darin was a huge Stones fan.
As to be expected, the movie is chockfull of musical performances and a bit of dancing--Spacey intended it to be reminiscent of a colorful MGM musical. A lot of people had no inkling of Spacey's singing chops until this movie hit the screens. I can't quite say that his voice is exactly the same as Darin's, but he's very smooth on screen and in the accompanying soundtrack, and as both he and Darin are master impersonators, he shows hints of this skill in the movie as well. Also, you have to give props to any actor that can actually sing his character's music pretty well and not resort to lip-synching, which is so common in so many other biographical films about music legends.
I also don't think Spacey looks like Darin (even with a prosthetic on his nose)...except for the part where he goes to the Big Sur and grows a mustache and sideburns. By that point, Spacey BECAME Darin for me, especially in this scene below where he changed his image to that of a denim-wearing folk singer in the late '60s. Spacey warming up his voice with a falsetto kind of gave me chills; he really embodied Darin at this point in his career (and I dig his shirt):
Darin's comeback is portrayed in the movie as well, where he wins an audience over with his peace anthem "Simple Song of Freedom." At the end of the film--well, let's just say Bobby Darin doesn't actually die. And while that may seem like a huge faux pas for some purists and another strike against the flick, I'm glad that Spacey didn't opt for that finale, especially considering Darin's actually death was totally grim, abrupt, and depressing. Spacey's version leaves you smiling. And ultimately, that is why Beyond the Sea didn't--and doesn't--deserve the venom that continues to be spewed at it.
Here's a couple of musical sequences from the movie to give you a taste...