There is no question that the Beach Boys are one of the greatest and most influential bands of all time, however I must confess I am not nearly in tune with there catalog as I would like to be. I mean I am a major fan of Pet Sounds of course but outside of that, my only real Beach Boys based exposure was Brain Wilson’s masterpiece solo work Smile. Well it turns out for me, Love and Mercy is a Beach Boys film that actually focuses on Brain Wilson and his work on both those albums!
The movie takes place over two time periods, with two different actors playing Brian Wilson. The 60s we have Paul Dano playing a Wilson who is on the verge of having psychosis and mental heath issues, while he is putting together his masterpiece Pet Sounds. Flash Forward to the 80’s were John Cusack plays a heavily drugged up Wilson, who is now under 24 hour surveillance by a shady therapist named Dr. Eugene Landy played by Paul Giamatti who completely runs his life.
Director Bill Pohlad brilliantly swifts between the two time frames in a way that really keeps the moving flowing and feeling like it is one story being told. Each part leads into the next, even over the decades of difference in stories and it all builds to tell a perfectly wonderful story of a brilliant man who was being trapped by not only his own mind but a person who clearly didn’t have Wilson’s best interests in mind.
Paul Dano , who has long been one of the most underrated talents working in movies, is an energetic ball of energy superbly catching the process of making music and losing your mind. The scenes were Wilson is working alone on the music for Pet Sounds while the rest of the group is touring Europe, Dano is explosive and wonderful truly capturing the pure perfection that only the best pop stars strive for in their music. He is working hands on with everyone doing the music and worries about things like the sound acoustics in the room. When Wilson starts to have the episodes psychosis, Dano is spot on showcasing a person who is not sure what is real and not anymore and how that can mess with a persons brain. This is an awards worthy performance.
Cusack who has when in the right role shown himself to be a wonderful actor, perhaps gives his best performance ever, here playing a form shell of himself man who, is always to drugged up with prescription drugs to truly enjoy life. There is a scene in the movie during a BBQ were Cusack plays Wilson as so stoned on his meds that he just sits there glossy eyed and repeating his words which is tremendous at showing how the effects of to many medications can make you almost not human. Cusack plays Wilson as a man who is clearly looking to burst out of this terrible cycle he is stuck in, but just can’t figure a way out.
There is two strong supporting performances that really stand out as well. Giamatti as Landy is pure dynamite, blowing with rage when he thinks his cash cow is in jeopardy. Giamatti loses his mind during a BBQ scene, throwing a tantrum that is scary and shocking. Elisabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter a car sales lady, who falls in love with Brain, is equally as wonderful as a woman who wants nothing more than to be with the man she loves but can’t stand another minute of watching him be trapped in his own personal hell. She has a wonderful arc in this movie that she plays to perfection.
Love and Mercy most of all is about the great music. We are flowered with many of excellent scenes of Brain making great music, like a true pro that he was. The soundtrack is a collection of wonderful treats from the Pet Sounds and Smile albums as well as a few other Beach Boy hits that are well known. It is one of those rare films that can truly capture the magic of music making and why the all time greats are as well remembered as they are.
In an excellent year of music themed movies, Love and Mercy stands strong as one of the best of the bunch. It is a showcase of music and acting, that paints a portrait over 2 decades, in the mind of one of musics greatest legends. Its music to the ears and eyes.