LOVE AND MERCY
The story of Brian Wilson Paul Dano, John Cusack) of The Beach Boys fame, exploring the challenges of his younger years and from the perspective of his wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) when she meets Brian in his 40s and under the questionable medical care of Dr Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).
Review by Louise Keller:
The emotionally turbulent and musically brilliant times of Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame is often as jarring as a discord. To describe it in musical terms, the film can switch from major to minor key in seconds. Bill Pohlad's absorbing drama is not a traditional biopic but feels a little like a hallucinatory trip, concentrating on key moments in two time windows. Paul Dano and John Cusack respectively portray the singer/ songwriter in the late 60s and 80s, brilliantly and effectively depicting a complex, creative, talented, tortured man pushing the boundaries of his talents and trying to survive.
In the opening montage, we are reminded of the carefree, toe-tapping sound of the Beach Boys' early hits, including Help Me Rhonda, California Girls, Good Vibrations and Fun, Fun, Fun, over footage of surf and sun, bikini girls and TV appearances. But there is little fun in the world of the group's co-founder and leader as he struggles with voices in his head and conflict with his band when he endeavours to make the greatest album ever. 'Pet Sounds' follows with songs like Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Only Knows... His musical ideas are progressive and original - like using voices in the soundtrack background or the sounds of dogs and trains... Wilson's physically and mentally abusive record producer father (Bill Camp) is always in the background.
The construct by screenwriters Michael A. Lerner and Oren Moverman in which the exposition toggles between Dano's youthful, ardent musician at his creative peak and Cusack's over-medicated, manipulated loner controlled by Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), the therapist with dubious methods and ethics to match, works well. Giamatti's Landy is a hideous creation: a master control freak who treats Wilson like an oppressed child. We become involved in both narratives.
Watch for the early scene in which Cusack's Wilson meets the blonde, empathetic car dealer Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks, stunning) in a Cadillac showroom. It is charming as is the vibe between Cusack and Banks. The progress of their romance is bizarre and incredible, with dates chaperoned by bodyguard minders and Wilson overly medicated for (wrongly diagnosed) paranoid schizophrenia. Ledbetter becomes Wilson's savior (and future wife).
Although it is integral to the plot, Love & Mercy concentrates on the drama behind the music, rather than on the music per se. Having said that, my favourite scenes are those in the recording studio when we see the meticulous, inventive brilliance of Wilson at work. Dano is marvelous here - his torment tangible. These allow us to understand how his mind works - like the scene when he cancels the recording session at great cost, because 'the vibrations' are wrong. Especially effective, as it follows the sequence in which the Beach Boys' hit Good Vibrations is created.
It's fascinating; tragic; inspiring. The time jump near the end of the film plays a little awkwardly but offers the required mechanism to bring the storyline to a close. Don't rush afterwards - the footage of the real Brian Wilson today singing the title song is something you won't want to miss.
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LOVE AND MERCY (M)
CAST: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Dee Wallace
PRODUCER: Bill Pohlad, Claire Rudnick Polstein, John Wells, Brian Wilson
DIRECTOR: Bill Pohlad
SCRIPT: Michael A. Lerner, Oren Moverman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert D. Yeoman
EDITOR: Dino Jonsater
MUSIC: Atticus Ross
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Keith P. Cunningham
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 25, 2015