Beyond the Sea


Director: Kevin Spacey

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

I. Why Such An Aged, Decrepit Bobby Darin?

Kevin Spacey produced, directed, co-wrote, & starred in this highly fictionalized account of the life of singer Bobby Darin. Spacey is one of America's finest actors, but as with similar vanity projects by other fine actors (what pops to mind first is Barbara Streisand playing the young boy in Yentl at a time in her life when she was no longer capable of looking young, let alone pass for a young boy), Spacey could not entirely pull this off due to age considerations.

A man in his mid-forties is playing the young Bobby Darin of the late 1950s. Bobby was twenty-two when he recorded "Mac the Knife." Spacey is older than Darin lived to be, & no way he captures even a symbolic Bobby at twenty-two, or twenty-five, or twenty-eight. Bobby in his last year of life didn't look as wrinkly as Kevin.

Bobby DarinThe script tries to deal with this wildly inappropriate casting in a prologue wherein Darin is supposedly making a posthumous film about his own life (the one we're about to see). A reporter notes that he's too old to play Bobby Darin. Thereafter, the whole film affects to have been made by Darin from the afterlife, so that he can re-enact even his own death & a little after.

This affectation fails miserably, because why would Bobby look older in the afterlife than he did even on his last day on Earth? It's a feeble excuse for having a forty-something play a twenty-something. And if Spacey had sought to project a good vision of Darin rather than exercise his own vanity, he'd've cast someone appropriate to the role & settled for being director & producer.

There is an attempt to offset Spacey's inappropriate age for the role by casting everyone else as even older & craggier, as though character actors in their sixties playing forty could make Spacey look young. I'm surprised they didn't truck out those old soft-focus filters that Hollywood always used for aging film divas & used them on Kevin.

None of the tricks change the dissonance of the casting, which is at its height of awful effect in the scenes when Bobby is courting Sandra Dee. What we see is not a young Bobby Darin in love at age 24 & 25, but a middle aged man with way too much make-up getting horny with a veritable child. The make-up artist who was trying to make Spacey look younger should be sued, though if Spacey hadn't been deep into a fit of narcissistic vanity he would've realized how awful he came off & wouldn't've permitted such scenes to be filmed in the first place.

While getting smoochy-lovey with young Kate Bosworth's Sandra Dee, he comes off as a syrupy old queen looking to do it hetero-style for the first time with a naive little girl. It's very creepy when it's supposed to be romantic, & it's decidedly the low point of the film.

As Darin ages, & being after all a rather ill man his whole life, Spacey's performance becomes more credible because the script presents such a prematurely aged & worn-out sickly pallid man whose dyed hair & cheap hairpieces make him look appalling even on a good night. The real Bobby Darin wasn't like that however. Bobby emanated coolness & his hair looked great on stage even if it wasn't all his.

Spacey evokes way too much pathos without even an ounce of coolness, & making his thinning hair look plastered with shoe polish was inaccurate & disrespectful. The pathos becomes positively burlesque. Spacey's physical presence never once captures the eternally youthful Bobby Darin, though I bet he would've been damned good at it ten or fifteen years ago.

Nevertheless, the musical numbers with a couple of exceptions are well enough done. Spacey sings the songs himself. If there had been included over the end-credits a bit of the actual Bobby Darin singing "Mac the Knife" or just about anything, Spacey's renditions would be shown up as comparatively without charisma. But the film carefully avoids the opportunity for comparison, & Spacey is a more than serviceable singer & dancer. While singing & dancing, he manages to infuse the film with momentary life.

Another affectation of the film is the periodic interjection of Little Bobby, the ghost of Bobby Darin as a child, who only appears in the film during its "serious" moments when Darin has to stop confabulating this life as a Hollywood fairytale & face the reality of his heart condition or other sorrows of existence.

Only at the very end does Little Bobby intrude upon the fairy tale component of the film, & the two Bobbies do a wonderful number together. By & large this is the one affectation of the film that completely works. The kid who played Little Bobby (William Ullrich) was one of only two cases of perfect casting, the other being Bosworth's Sandra Dee.

For people who came to this film not knowing who Bobby Darin was, they will get a very mixed impression. They will think he must've looked very much older than he was, that his drive to suceed was totally self-centered, & that his dream to be "bigger than Sinatra" was never achieved when in fact for a little while he was Elvis & Sinatra rolled into one, appealing to all generations instead of just to some.

No film can show everything, but in overlooking the fact that Bobby was a producer who worked to further the career of other talented performers, this lent to a characterization of him as wholly self-absorbed & selfish, as though he focused exclusively on himself knowing as he did that he would not have a long life. Yet that was not the case; Bobby was massively generous to fellow performers.

So too, in skipping over his successful television variety show which was going gung-ho the last couple years of his life, the film gives the impression that only people who attended clubs or went to Vegas ever saw him. The script even has Bobby lament outright that clubs were vanishing & stadium rock performances were not his thing, so he was worried he no longer had an outlet.

The reality was that Bobby was in everyone's home on a very entertaining variety show viewed all across America every week, & he was loved as a comic & impressionist as well as for his music. Spacey can do comedy & impressions too, but elected not to draw on as many of his talents that would have more accurately reflected Bobby's.

Why Spacey's script insists on making Bobby pathetic must be related to his personal sense of what is dramatic, but it insulted the very memory Spacey theoretically hoped to upraise.

At the same time one could not possibly know from this film that Darin & Dee divorced in 1967. So while Spacey's script implies moments of failure that did not occur in Darin's life, he glosses past this actual failure.

Nevertheless, by the end, & on balance, Kevin's film will have done more good than bad. Spacey presented his movie to the world with honest affection & admiration for the great talent that was Bobby Darin. Today it seems that hardly anyone who isn't old enough to have experienced the 1960s quite knows who Bobby Darin was. Spacey sincerely wanted to redress this lack. It's only too bad he didn't have the opportunity to do this when he was himself young enough to pass for a young man.

Perhaps no actor today could've sung Bobby's songs as well as Spacey managed, but his own talent & his affection for the subject were not enough to make it a good idea to cast a geezer as a twenty-something. By the time the film ended, I was moved by it, & enjoyed it, despite that it was never quite possible to wholly shake that awful image from earlier in the film, of a painted old queen hustling the young Sandra Dee. In those scenes I wanted the real Bobby Darin to burst into the film & save Sandra from that horny bastard's sickening fawning & pawing.

II. Kevin's Gay In-jokes? How can it be!

Kevin Spacey doesn't like for people to think he's gay, though everyone thinks so, & according to photos published by The Star that caught him in a tryst doting on, cuddling, & laying his head in the lap of a beautiful hot studly model, there's really no question but that Kevin Spacey is gay.

Not that there aren't a few sissified straight guys out there who speak & walk like old queens the way Spacey always has. Jack Benny was that sort of straight sissy, & if not for the Star photos one might leave room for some tiny possibility that Spacey was merely the most sissified straight man in Hollywood. But it's fairly definite that he is not one of that rarified minority.

Given that Kevin has never come out of the closet, it is interesting that a script he co-wrote includes inside-jokes that would seem to be about his own homosexuality. Could his co-writer have surreptitiously put these in? Or is Kevin, even from the closet, winking at his gay fans?

The film has Sandra Dee's mother angrily telling Sandra she should have gotten involved with the "appropriate" Rock Hudson on the same film set, not with the inappropriate Bobby Darin. This gets a giggle from anyone imagining Sandra's life as a third wheel on Rock's gay lovelife, & his own particular closet didn't save him from AIDs. Later Sandra Dee tells Bobby that if he thinks her acting jobs are so easy, he should try kissing Troy Donahue & see how he liked it, inducing audience titters since very likely Spacey would've liked it very much (Troy himself complained he was often mistaken for Tab Hunter, who was gay).

These inside jokes seemed very much in keeping with Spaceyesque humor, as he can be an extremely funny guy. It makes one wonder why after Esquire jestingly half-outed him by daring to mention the already widespread rumors of his gayness when they caught him on vacation with a boyfriend, Spacey got almost blitheringly defensive in his 1997 Post interview onward through his 2000 appearance at the Oscars with a paid companion trundled out as proof that the photographs that had just appeared in The Star didn't mean he was as gay as he was caught behaving.

In multiple pre-Star defensive interviews he said his private life was nobody's business & that the Esquire piece was homophobic (it wasn't -- but Kevin was homophobic, self-hatingly so, when he stormed out of an LA radio program as soon as he realized that female impersonator Ru Paul was conducting the interview).

He went on about how Esquire was conducting a McCarthy era style witchhunt. Hardly; I'm surprised he left out "they are nazis!" -- but Kevin doesn't dare bring up nazis. His father Thomas "Geof" Fowler was a collector of nazi memorabilia & according to Kevin's brother Randy Fowler, their father was long a member of the American Nazi Party. That alone might explain why Spacey would remain neurotically closeted.

Randy also revealed that he had been repeatedly raped by their father. Though he adds that Kevin was not so mishandled by their father, Randy nevertheless believes Kevin is to this day "emotionally shut down" due to the horrors of growing up with a nazi-loving pornographer for a father, whom Randy & Kevin nicknamed "The Creature."

Randy lives here in the Pacific Northwest & is an entertainer (a Rod Stewart impersonator -- we do not know if he could also do Bobby Darin). His awful revelations were bought & paid for by the London Daily Mail. It remains a bit "hot" for American tabloids to touch, & many regard what Randy did as a betrayal of the family's deepest held secrets, as was Kevin's ex sister-in-law who just plain out said "he prefers weiners." It's too bad Kevin couldn't consider all this an opportunity to no longer live with the burden of secrets that do inevitably get out.

Personally I'd consider both Randy & Kevin survivors of heroic mettle to have made something of themselves with that kind of background, & if it contributed to Kevin's greatness as an actor, if it gave him dark things to draw on to create complex & often strange characters, he should take pride in even the horrors of his past, as also his loves. With this kind of misery in his background, it's all the more startling that he has gotten up in arms about being outed as queer; though if Randy's right that Kevin is emotionally shut down, the most personal things will always be the hardest to deal with honestly.

Kevin had also tried Cruise control tactics with public statements about a girlfriend whom no one previously had heard of but her existence is trumpeted on Oscars night shortly after the Star photos made it much too late to get that cat back into the bag, or closet. Kevin stopped issuing public denials after the Star photos made it hopeless, but he kept Diane Dryer on staff as his beard, & made rumblings between 1997 & 2000 about how he's planning to have kids maybe someday (implying rather foolishly that queers don't have kids).

Photographs of Kevin cuddling his studly model had rendered further denials even more counterproductive than they'd always been. It never really mattered that he's gay; he wouldn't lose one penny of box office by being honest. But by not getting the story "straight" from the beginning, he just increased everyone's awareness of the disharmony between his sissified demeanor or his cuddling a young man, versus the sudden appearance of a cover-girlfriend & his wacky claims of being hunted down like a communist.

How can he be that far back in the closet, or stressed out about the natural assumption such an old swish as he is has got to be queer, yet at the same time put jokes into his own script about kissing Troy Donahue? Is he just ambivalent about his reputation?

Or, is it only his agents & reps who have demanded he "in" himself because these are no longer his youthful theater days when he was notorious & very public with men. Or does he not recognize his own world view is faggy & thus inserts these allusions in a script almost like freudian slips? Or was it only that his co-writer surreptitiously slipped the gay in-jokes into the Bobby Darin script? I prefer to think Kevin himself could not resist nodding to his gay fan base when chance arises, & this is his tepid salvo toward coming out the very next time the opportunity presents itself.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

[ Film Home ] - [ Film Reviews Index ]
[ Where to Send DVDs for Review ] - [ Paghat's Giftshop ]