Love & Mercy, 2015.
Directed by Bill Pohlad.
Starring Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti.
In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.
For fans of the iconic 60s pop group The Beach Boys, this is a must-watch. Love & Mercy is a poignant and considered attempt to chronicle the tumultuous life of the band’s lead musician, Brian Wilson.
The film is a biopic covering two periods of Wilson’s life. Paul Dano (There Will be Blood, Ruby Sparks) plays Wilson during the mid 60s when seminal album Pet Sounds was recorded, but also the period when Wilson began to develop mental health issues and abused drugs and alcohol.
Intercut with this narrative is John Cusack (2012, The Raven) as Wilson in the late 80s, when he met his current wife Melinda Ledbetter, played by the brilliant Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect, The Lego Movie) but also when he was under the thumb of Eugene Landy , a manipulative doctor played by a sinister Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2).
The main draws of the film are the great acting and amazing soundtrack. Dano portrays Wilson’s passion and creativity, even as he loses himself to mental illness. Director Bill Pohlad (12 Years a Slave) does a wonderful job showing the creative process behind recording an album, even adopting fancy camera tricks to recreate film from the 60s.
Meanwhile, the love story between Cusack and Banks is well-managed. Cusack does a brilliant job of portraying Wilson as a gentle but lonely and scared man. His verbal and physical ticks do a great job of portraying the damage done by Levy’s regimen of psychotropic drugs and emotional abuse.
At times the film droops into melodrama. Giamatti’s an excellent actor but Levy is unsubtle in his hostility: the film could do with exploring whether Levy genuinely thought he was helping Wilson or was purely in it for himself. Instead, he comes across almost as a pantomime villain.
Similarly, some of the scenes set in the 60’s fail to convince. The relationship between Dano’s Wilson and his first wife Marilyn never comes to life.
On the other hand, the scenes between Wilson and his father are well-judged, and the frictions that develop between members of The Beach Boys over the band’s musical direction could have sustained a whole film.
As mentioned, the soundtrack is awesome. The use of Beach Boys songs and watching performers play instruments is enjoyable, and often brings the movie back to focus on Wilson’s creativity and musical genius. It’ll remind you of some of the excellent, pioneering music that Wilson developed in the 60s.
Overall, music fans will get a lot from the movie, especially regarding the creative process. As a drama, it’s effective and moving. A highly enjoyable Summer experience.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★