Hollywood has finally renewed its love affair with musicals. After the early 1970s, it seemed that directors got tired of adapting musicals to film. But like all good fashion trends, what's old becomes new again, and the result is feel-good musicals like Beyond the Sea.
The movie follows the life of Bobby Darin, a crooner and an American teen idol in the 1950s and '60s. The movie, which is both directed by and stars Kevin Spacey, primarily centers on Darin's music, his family -- especially his wife, Sandra Dee (well acted by Kate Bosworth) -- and his drive to become a star. Rheumatic fever in his youth left Darin's heart weakened permanently, so he tried to accomplish everything he could before his heart gave out at age 36.
Like several other recent movie musicals, Beyond the Sea imagines that Darin is creating a movie about his own life. The film has a prominent fantasy element, as Spacey, 46, plays a man half his age and has conversations with Darin's childhood self (played by William Ullrich). It has wonderful whimsical sequences -- people dancing in the street to Darin's music, Darin's wooing of Dee -- that match Darin's fantastical lyrics and sugary pop. The most impressive part is that Spacey sings all Darin's songs himself, almost daring us to sing along with the infectious melodies.
The movie stands as an affirmation of humanity and poignancy. Bobby Darin overcame daunting obstacles to become, as Darin himself put it, "bigger than Sinatra." The film has garnered criticism for glossing over the problems in Darin's life and in his relationship with Dee, but it is refreshing to see a film that points out problems without beating the audience over the head with them.
The movie's only drawback is the immense amount of time Spacey spends onscreen. Other characters are marginalized in order to let viewers watch Spacey sing another song. The relationship between Dee and Darin could have been deeper -- and more factual (after all, Darin divorced Dee in 1967, a fact conveniently ignored in the movie). Yet adding more elements of Darin's life would have also taken the focus off Darin's music -- and the music is exactly where the focus belongs.