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 (email@example.com)
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 »
A biopic of, and a homage to, Brian Wilson. Most of the time it succeeds in avoiding the tackiness of the genre because of the structure of its screenplay, which splits Brian into two (occasionally three, counting fleeting appearances of him as a child). This strategy was used to great effect (and with a larger number of 'selves') in He's Not There, Todd Haynes' fascinating film about Bob Dylan, and I'm sure it's no accident that Oren Moverman, Haynes' collaborator on the screenplay of that movie, is a co-author of Love & Mercy.
The two Brians here are brilliantly played by Paul Dano and John Cusack, two of Hollywood's finest. Dano, with more to chew on, is especially noteworthy. They are supported superbly by Elizabeth Banks' quiet compassion and Paul Giamatti's dangerous volatility. John Camp contributes a fine performance as Wilson's violent, emotionally blackmailing father.
Another star of Love & Mercy is its production design, which makes brilliantly expressive use of colour contrasts. And of course there's the music, the sound of The Beach Boys. The scenes recreating their studio sessions are simultaneously celebratory and poignant, especially for those of us who were young when these wonderful songs first emerged.
But, to its credit, the movie is not a nostalgia-fest. Having avoided that trap, however, it occasionally falls into another, making connections between madness and genius that can't ever be proved: were Wilson's mental illness or his drug abuse contributors to his visionary talent? No one can know. The movie tries to have it both ways by suggesting that LSD was an influence on Pet Sounds, while also portraying Brian's illness as an obstacle to the expression of his gift. This apart, the screenplay, ably directed by Bill Pohlad, is pretty strong.
Best for me is a wonderful conversation between Wilson-Dano and his session drummer. The latter has played with 'em all - Elvis, Phil Spector, Sam Cooke - but tells Brian that he's better than any of them. The look of modest yet profound gratitude on Dano's face powerfully packs the lack of praise he's had from his father, the incomprehension of his brothers and cousin (his fellow Beach Boys) at the depth of his talent, and his desperate need for love. In one respect this is quite a clichéd scene in terms of what the drummer actually says, but the film has created a context in which Wilson's whole dilemma is suddenly made vivid, an opportunity which Dano, a sensitive and gifted actor, seizes and transforms into something great.
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