Friday, January 07, 2005

Life Aquatic and Beyond the Sea: Sinking fast...

Two movies out currently without complete oars in the water are Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Beyond the Sea.

Steve and his regular crew are hunting for the shark that killed his partner during the documentary filming of their latest adventure. Along the way he finds Owen Wilson, who may or may not be his son, and Cate Blanchett, an aspiring but pregnant reporter, as well as Anjelica Huston as his wife and coproducer. Willem Dafoe plays his longtime mate. They face overwhelming obstacles, such as bankruptcy and pirates, on what is probably Steve’s last voyage as the wanna-be Jacques Cousteau.

Life Aquatic is a mess waiting for structure. Instead, there are pieces of the movie stuck together with masking tape, pieces which add nothing to the meaning of the film or even your viewing pleasure. The only anchor here is Bill Murray’s subtle performance, and even he looks tired by mid-film.

While billed as a comedy, this is definitely not a funny film, except for one two-minute sequence where Steve introduces his boat, starting with the live-in masseuse.

What were great actors like Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston and Willem Dafoe thinking? I know what Bill Murray was thinking -- he's in every shot and has to carry this dreadful, boring film on his weary back.

I watched three people walk out of the theatre about two-thirds the way into the film. I wish I had had the good sense to follow them.


When I was a pre-teen, I loved the song “Splish Splash.” I spent many a minute trying to figure out how this guy had a party with all those famous people in the living room while he was stuck in the bathroom. When I was a little older, I adored “Dream Lover,” and I still do. Only as a mature adult did I claim “Beyond the Sea” as my favorite Bobby Darin song.

I watched all the Bobby Darin movies growing up. I cried during “Captain Newman, M.D.” I watched all the movies he did with Sandra Dee, although I couldn’t tell you the plots. They were cute.

So I walked into Beyond the Sea, wanting to hear the answers to all my questions about the late, great Bobby Darin. How did this man do Splish Splash but then turn around and do Mack the Knife (a song I just didn’t get as a youngster), a clever and jazzy up-tempo number that changed forever his career instantly? What happened to his movie career? Hell, what happened to his hair? When we saw him later doing “If I Were a Carpenter,” he was completely bald and the world went into shock. I had heard his marriage was in trouble all along – what happened there?

Beyond the Sea, Kevin Spacey’s paean to Bobby Darin, answers some of these questions. I knew I wanted to see this movie, and I wanted it to succeed. I wanted answers to my questions, and I wanted the world to recognize how great Bobby Darin was.

Unfortunately, most of this movie is Kevin Spacey’s idea of what a biopic should look like. It’s pretentious and fails, mostly, due to the huge obstacles the star puts in its way. I tried to forget that Kevin is much older than the 20’s Bobby Darin he tried to show us. I couldn’t. Bobby Darin had a rubber face, or at least it seemed to me, changing constantly, moving from confident to petulant to demanding. Kevin’s face – and perhaps this was due to the extensive makeup he had on, including a prosthetic nose – didn’t move, and with harsh lighting we were constantly reminded of the age difference. His face was stiff and so is his performance.

There are some wonderful moments. The staging of Beyond the Sea, when Bobby first recognizes his love for Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth, who is surprisingly good in this part), is artistically done, and Kevin looks like he’s having a ball dancing and singing down German streets. Kevin's singing is, thankfully, not strictly according to recorded performances, but a free-wheeling version of what Bobby probably did in nightclubs, not singing the songs the same way every time.

But in the end, this is Kevin’s film but not ours. While answers are there regarding Bobby’s life, we don’t feel we’re watching Bobby at all.

"Never again (will) I go sailin'. No more sailin'. Bye bye, sailin'."


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