Love & Mercy is a biopic of sorts on the life of the Beach Boys Brian Wilson. We see him mostly in two distinct decades of his life—the ‘60’s and the ‘80’s. In the 1960’s, the Beach Boys were rapidly becoming one of the top pop/rock groups in the world. Brian is the heart and soul of the group, writing many of the hit songs and lending his falsetto voice to the harmonies. During that time he experiences what we would now call “social phobia”, and is beginning his descent into full-blown mental illness.
Wilson of that era is played by Paul Dano who remarkably resembles Wilson and delivers a strong performance, searching out the core of who Wilson was in those early years. Dano has always been a favorite of mine, from his early work in Little Miss Sunshine (time to revisit that one?) to There Will Be Blood, and then Prisoners (if you somehow missed Prisoners, it is a fine suspenseful drama with an excellent cast). Dano’s filmography includes many other offerings, and he has clearly proven to be one of the most accomplished actors of his or any generation. Loved him in Love & Mercy.
By the 1980’s, Wilson has already experienced a 3-year bedstay, a descent into psychosis, and status as a ward of misguided (read: evil) psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy. Who better to embody this stage of Brian’s life than the uber-versatile John Cusack. Whether in his iconic role as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything (Google his monologue in that film for a retro laugh), or his turns in Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity and Being John Malkovich, Cusack is a national treasure, and it feels great to just absorb his performances. As the later Brian Wilson, he is brilliant, and captures the essence of deep and dark mental illness.
The elephant in the room for me is that Cusack looks nothing like Brian Wilson, and I never quite made my peace with that. In the Special Features, one of the filmmakers said that it was not important to them that both actors resemble Wilson. One of the writers, Oren Moverman, is also responsible for I’m Not There, where six different actors (including Cate Blanchett!) play Bob Dylan, and Love & Mercy’s casting is certainly not as big a stretch as that. And also nevermind, because the performances by the two Brians were stellar, and supporting cast members, Paul Giamatti (can he do no wrong?), as Dr. Landy, and Elizabeth Banks as Brian’s love Melinda, were more than perfect in their respective roles.
Don’t forget the music. It will take you back in time, and adds so much to the telling of the story.
Ultimately, this is a film I felt a profound emotional connection to, not only for its portrayal of one of the most prominent musicians of my generation, but also because of its detailed picture of mental illness, and how it could be treated in those days, even for the rich and famous. This is a compelling story that will keep the viewer interested.
What a worthwhile film. Forgive what it doesn’t cover, and sit back and take in a unique and intimate tale. Good vibrations. – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 9/15/15