Based on a screenplay by Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman, Love & Mercy is a biopic about The Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson and his struggle with mental illness. It is directed by Bill Pohlad and distributed by Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions.
The film alternates between young Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) finishing Pet Sounds in the 1960s and the release of the “Good Vibrations” single. The other band members are growing increasingly frustrated with him as he seems to be abandoning the iconic The Beach Boys rock and roll style for other sounds. What they notice, as does everyone around him, is Brian seems to be losing his grip on reality.
The second story involves an older Brian (John Cusack) in 1980s meeting car saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) and growing to love her. However, as Melinda soon learns, Brian’s controlling psychiatrist and manager Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) rules the musician’s life with an iron fist through drugs and intimidation. As Melinda’s feelings for Brian deepen, his housekeeper Gloria (Diana Maria Riva) reveals the abuse that the musician is enduring under Landy.
Both Cusack and Dano deserved accolades for their performances as Brian Wilson. Dano plays the star who is suffering as he produces music for The Beach Boys and Cusack plays the meek, imprisoned genius who has a controlling master. This was a conscious effort done by the filmmakers, who was told by the real Wilson that he considered himself two different people. If that was the goal they nailed it and both actors did a phenomenal job.
Likewise, Banks and Giamatti do a good job with their respective roles. Melinda is portrayed as a woman at first confused by Wilson’s condition, but after making her observations, she realizes what is really going on. Giamatti, as usual, is excellent as the terrifying and bullying manager. He has made a career doing that. From Big Fat Liar to Cinderella Man to Straight Outta Compton, he nails those roles and this is no exception.
Now, I do know biopics tend to play fast and loose with the story, either for dramatic purposes or to sum things up. However, I do wish the movie had given more screentime to Brian’s brother Carl Wilson, played by Brett Davern. He was key to rescuing Brian from Landy’s clutches and while the movie does mention his help, it is in passing.
That being said, what brings the biopic to a full circle is the music. I am not a musician, but I come from a family of them, so I have always loved musical films. With this, hearing the music, sounds, and songs of The Beach Boys, one of the greatest American bands of the 1960s, was inspiring. It shows their tension, their issues, and how their desire to bring their sound to the crowds.
I also appreciated how mental illness was portrayed in the film. I have relatives and friends who have struggled with severe mental illness and I felt that they approached Brian Wilson’s problems with reverence. That is difficult to do. Go too far one way and you make victims seem crazy. Go too far the other way and you glamorize it. In this case, the film hit the balance and it was inspiring.
Bottom line, Love & Mercy is moving biopic of a musical artist who went through not one, but many crises that defined him and his career, but also how he overcame them.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence, Drug abuse, Disturbing images
FAVORITE QUOTE: We’re not surfers, we never have been, and real surfers don’t dig our music anyway!
Check out the trailer below:
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