Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey stars in, co-wrote and directs a musical biography of versatile performer Bobby Darin, the 1960's pop superstar who died at age 37 after a short but momentous career. Alan Silverman has a look at Beyond The Sea.
His signature tune, "Mack The Knife", spent nine weeks on top of the music charts in 1959 and launched Bobby Darin to superstardom.
He was born Walden Robert Cassotto in 1936 and grew up in the New York borough of the Bronx. Rheumatic fever damaged his heart as a child; but the kid who wasn't expected to live to his teen years showed them all. He started with rock hits like "Queen Of The Hop" and "Splish Splash" and always knew he was on his way to the top.
At 45, Kevin Spacey is already eight years older than Bobby Darin was when he died in 1973 from complications after heart surgery; but in the spirit of an old fashioned Hollywood musical, Spacey spans that age gap with fantasy dance numbers and plenty of Darin's music.
The arrangements are familiar; in fact, some of the musicians backed up Darin 40 years ago. However, Spacey decided to sing the vocals himself rather than lipsynch to the originals.
"I grew up loving movie musicals and I am a singer. I started out doing musicals - which not a lot of people know because those were all sort of high school summer stock-college, but I still loved it, regardless of the fact that it wasn't in the professional world," Spacey says. "[And] Because I also knew that I wanted to expand the music and do these big dance numbers: we could have never done that if we had been tied to the original tracks. So it's just wanting to, in a sense, put yourself out there and challenge myself . . . test my own talents.
I feel a little bit like [former vice presidential candidate] Lloyd Bentsen when he said 'you're no JFK.' Well, I'm no Bobby Darin, because he was in a league all his own; " Spacey continues, "but my voice was within a range and if I chose the songs carefully . . . you know, there are some numbers I wouldn't try, trust me, because I know I couldn't get there . . . a lot of his work I could get there for, so the choices of songs had to do with what I thought advanced the narrative of the story and the songs that I thought I could accomplish; but it was my version of Bobby and I always hoped that if the attack were right, if the phrasing were right, if we were exact with the arrangements, we might get to a point where people would go 'is that Bobby or is that Kevin?' That, for me, meant that I was honoring his talent, but also using my own and it was coming from me."
Kate Bosworth co-stars as '60's screen icon Sandra Dee, who Bobby Darin wooed and married in 1960.
"When I first started researching I watched a few of her films and then found myself getting really caught up in the imitation of it and freaking out because I didn't think I could actually walk exactly like her, talk exactly like her, move exactly like her," Bosworth says. "So I went to Kevin and said 'I think I need a speech coach, a movement coach . . . every kind of coach possible to be able to imitate this person exactly because I want to get it right.' He looked at me and said 'no, we're not doing an imitation. Take it with a grain of salt and then we really have to create the characters from our hearts to make it believable and to make people care.' "
The names are the same, but co-writer and director Spacey acknowledges the script takes some significant liberties with the facts of Bobby Darin's life.
"I wasn't interested in making a dark, plodding bio pic. I was interested in making a celebration, so I didn't go into a lot of areas that I could have," Spacey explains. "I didn't deal with their divorce. I didn't deal with his second marriage. I wanted to make a romance - not just about them, but a romance about the period, this music [and] this kind of filmmaking. So there were a lot of things I chose not to address and a lot of things I changed around because they dramatically worked better. So because I was breaking the bounds of a bio pic that has to be accurate, I said 'it's a fantasy.' I'm interested in having people walk out and feel uplifted; and in my movie, Bobby Darin doesn't die. Walden Robert Cassotto dies, but Bobby Darin, as I say at the end, is still swinging."
Beyond The Sea also features Brenda Blethyn as Bobby's mother; John Goodman plays his longtime manager and it introduces young William Ullrich playing Bobby Darin as a youngster.