RUNNING TIME: 118 Minutes
Director & Producer Commentary
“Making of” Featurette
“Let’s make a Bobby Darin biopic.” Really – what the hell else needed to be said?
Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth, John Goodman, Bob Hoskins, Brenda Blethyn, Greta Scacchi
Bobby Darin’s real life was pretty much lifted part and parcel from The Big Book of Movie Cliches. Born into poverty with a life threatening illness, Darin (born Walden Robert Cassotto) overcame all the odds to become a superstar on the stage and screen. His popularity equaled, if not rivaled, those of his strongest peers. He ran off and got hitched to a famous actress (Sandra Dee), had a rocky, tumultuous marriage that ended in divorce, alienated himself from his career and his fans, discovered his entire childhood was a lie and died a tragic, early death at age 37. If I didn’t know it was the true story I’d call it the laziest bit of writing since…well…I dunno – some other bit of lazy fiction. Forrest Gump, or something.
Okay, so I mentioned that Darin’s life was one giant cliché (and I say that as an observation rather than any sort of condemnation). Spacey and Co. knew that as well because you could tell they wanted to make something ambitious that didn’t just paint by the numbers. So they came up with an opening sequence that’s so damn meta I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just a transcription of a script meeting. It’s Darin and his entourage trying to decide the best way to start the movie-of-his-life-within-the-movie-of-his-life (what?). Now, I may very well be mistaken on this – but that’s completely frivolous. As far as I know, Darin never commissioned a movie of his own life that was supposed to star himself as himself. But, back on point, from there we move to a flashback of Darin’s childhood that’s essentially one wacky musical number in the streets (what?). And then it’s just an overlong montage of moments that are barely strung together as a narrative. Bobby’s an adult! He gets a record deal! He records “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover!” Then “Mack the Knife!” Then he meets Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) on a movie! They hate each other! They love each other! They get married! Bobby plays the Copa! Sandra gets pregnant! Rocky yells “DRAAGOOO!” from the top of a mountain! Um, wait…
There was a brief period where Darin decided to trade in the stage and the stardom for a van full of candy and kittens.
And we pretty much just continue that way through the end of the movie. Now, because I’m a bit of a sucker, I’m willing to entertain the notion that all the different gear switches were supposed to be a narrative metaphor for the way Darin himself switched gears in his career (granted, it’s a notion that I just made up, but I like to examine all possibilities and let it not be said that I‘m not a fair man). But, whether or not it was intentional actually ends up being moot – BECAUSE IT FUCKING SUCKS. It’s completely unorganized and melodramatic and nobody on the cast brought anything to their performance that was much more than what was immediately required of them. Well, except for Spacey’s performances on stage – but I’ll get into that in a bit.
But that’s just the narrative. Okay, so they fucked that up, maybe (MAYBE) I could let that slide because what’s really important about the Bobby Darin Legacy is the music. You have a kid who comes out of NOWHERE to become a platinum-selling (back when that just STARTED to mean something) teen-idol rock star. He then, by sheer force of will, transforms himself into a standards-singing Vegas headliner who was one of the only performers to ever require the Copa to sell extra seating on their dance floor. Sammy Davis Jr. is actually quoted as saying that Darin is the only performer that he’d never want to follow.
I’m not gonna lie – seeing Bobby Darin at the Copa has been on my “Things to Do With a Time Machine” list for a long, long time.
And, if you ask me, a big part of his sensational stardom was the fact that his own tragic experiences influenced a lot of his songs. One of his two most famous recordings is a swingin’ little cover of a moritat about a serial killer. “Artificial Flowers” is a song about a 9-year-old orphan girl who freezes to death making fake flowers for rich women to wear on their clothes. “Clementine” is a darkly funny love song about a woman who drowned because she was so heavy that she broke the bridge she was crossing and was too fat to be rescued (“Hey you sailor/way out on your whaler/with your harpoon and your trusty line/if she shows now/yell ‘thar she blows now’/it just may be that Clementine”). And while Sinatra was singing “I Wish You Love,” Darin recorded “I Wanna Be Around,” which may be the single most vindictive break-up song I’ve ever heard (it‘s also a song that Sinatra recorded a far inferior cover of – just sayin’).
And that’s not counting the other incredible songs like “Hello Dolly,” “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Lazy River,” “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby”…well, the list goes on and on. So, what you have is a singer/songwriter who has an obscene amount of marvelous songs and a few of them are twisted enough to give you ample cause to wonder just what the hell drove him to sing them.
Really – what the hell else is a Grammy good for?
But what does Spacey focus on? “Splish Splash,” “Mack the Knife” and “A Simple Song of Freedom.” Three songs from the man’s entire oeuvre and they pretty much just exist without any real examination as to just went on inside his head. Well, that’s not entirely fair – they paid a lot of attention to Darin’s disillusionment after JFK’s assassination and “A Simple Song of Freedom” pretty much ended up being the main focal point of the movie.
John Goodman learned the hard way that the local hot dog stand was the Hollow Man’s favorite hang out. Yikes.
That said though – how do you fuck the music up in a movie about Bobby Darin? Especially when you’ve been around the block as many times as Kevin Spacey has – who acted as director, producer, co-writer, star and self-proclaimed lifelong fan of Darin‘s. No excuse whatsoever.
Now, I do need to mention that when Spacey performed as Darin, it really was Spacey – he did all of his own singing and he damn sure did the songs justice. That may be the only positive thing I can say.
The art’s nice but sort of bland – Spacey on the mic and Bosworth in the back. It’s a decent enough visual metaphor for how his marriage and his home life took a severe backseat to his career but it’s kinda lifeless. In a funny little bit of irony, the tagline says “In the era of cool, Bobby Darin was the soundtrack.” Pretty much how I feel about it, but why didn’t they make a movie about it? Bah.
Features give us a commentary with Spacey and Andy Paterson and a “Making of” Featurette. But I’ll be honest, the movie pissed me off badly enough that I just took it out without any desire to watch the features. Oh well.