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.
Brian Wilson is the creative soul of the Beach Boys, but he paid a heavy price for his talent. That especially shows during his peak artistic years in the 1960s, as his inner demons and obsessions trying to please his abusive father drive him to a mental breakdown that would plague him for years. In the 1980s, with Brian barely functional under the domination of the unscrupulous Dr. Landy, Brian meets and falls in love with Melinda Ledbetter. As their relationship grows, she observes Brian's crippling subservience to the abusive psychotherapist with growing alarm. Ultimately, she must take action with a love willing to stand up to oppression she cannot ignore.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The real Wilson reported having a mild dissociative experience while watching the film. He started to believe that Paul Giamatti was the actual Eugene Landy and felt "absolutely in fear" for several minutes. See more »
In the credits the listing for the song 'Sloop John B' says "Written by Brian Wilson". In fact Wilson's version was inspired by the Kingston Trio's 1958 version, and the song itself is a traditional folk song from the Bahamas. There is a transcription of the song dating to 1916.. See more »
First, there's concert footage of the recent Brian Wilson, himself, singing "Love & Mercy", and then at the very end there is audio of a brief recreated studio recording of Good Vibrations, with '60s Brian leading the dialogue. See more »
The version which premiered at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival and a few subsequent public screenings contained a few extra scenes, such as an "I Get Around" studio sequence, and a scene where Wilson meets Phil Spector on the street. The closing song "One Kind of Love" was also absent from this cut. See more »
When done right, a biopic film can be quite a sight to behold for the potential it is to combine drama, real-life, and music. Fortunately, "Love & Mercy" is most definitely done right, relaying the story of Brian Wilson and his relation to the band he created...The Beach Boys.
For a basic plot summary, "Love & Mercy" tells an intertwining dual-narrative tale: A young Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) is rising to fame with The Beach Boys, while at the same time succumbing to his mental demons. While the rest of the band wants to "ride the wave" (pun intended) of their skyrocketing success, Brian feels artistically compelled (one might say maniacally driven) to do his own thing. An alcoholic and un-supportive father (played by Bill Camp) finally pushes Brian over the edge, prompting him to shack up in his room for years on end. Fast-forward about 30 years into the future and Wilson (John Cusack), now quite an odd fellow but at least out in society again, happens to meet a car saleswoman named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) and strike up a friendship (that may also be a bit romantic). Melinda discovers that Brian is now closely watched (guarded) by one Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), on a strict program of pills and tough discipline. The doctor says it is for Brian's own good, but Melinda has her own serious doubts about that.
The first thing that needs to be understood about "Love & Mercy" is that it isn't a "Beach Boys biopic". It's a "Brian Wilson biopic". Sure, the other Beach Boys members are prominently featured as is their music throughout, but the narrative focus is squarely on Brian Wilson. So, those looking for a retrospective on the history of the group might be a little disappointed.
This is probably a good choice, however, as Brian's story is probably the most interesting thing TO focus on. From his relationships to family, friends, fellow band members, and (in the later years) society as a whole, Brian battled mental illness and extreme anxiety. I hadn't realized that he also looked to be severely taken advantage of by Dr. Landy. Just a fascinating human-interest story all-around.
Like all great musical biopics, "Love & Mercy" needed great music and got exactly that! You'll be listening to Beach Boys tunes for awhile after the viewing is over. The acting is also very convincing. Both the young/old Wilson actors are spot-on, while Banks shows she can hold down a very serious, emotional role (moving away from the dirty rom-coms and crazy Effie character from the Hunger Games she had come to be known for). Of course, it's a historical picture, so Giamatti is in it (!).
About the only caveat I could give to this film is that it might not play quite as well if you know nothing about the Beach Boys or Brian Wilson. I knew the basic story going in, so was able to pick up on all the requisite beats. I'd be interested to hear if others (who know nothing about the topic) were able to do the same.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed "Love & Mercy" for its combination of drama, music, and historical realism. The scenes from the past are capable of producing great nostalgia, while those set in Wilson's "older years" tell a compelling story that many may not know.
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