Love and Mercy-2015
Starring-John Cusack, Paul Dano
Scott’s Review #258
Reviewed July 17, 2015
The life and times of the Beach Boys famous and troubled lead singer, Brian Wilson, is finally played out on the big screen (apparently many attempts were made to make a film) as Love and Mercy chronicles his difficult upbringing, unrivaled success, and his interesting life in later years, as he suffered from schizophrenia, traveled down a paranoid, nervous path, and was manipulated by a family friend who served as his doctor and main caregiver. Thankfully, he weathered the storm in large part to his future wife, and remarkably, still performs and entertains in 2015. His musical career began in the 1960’s.
The biopic features many of the well-known Beach Boys tunes to hum along to and to be entertained by, but is not a happy film, nor is it quite a downer either. It is somewhere in the middle of the two. It is a telling of the life story of a rock star. There is risk in this- If the film is too sentimental it will fail. Love and Mercy does it correctly. To be clear, the film is not a schmaltzy, sing along, trip down memory lane type of film for lighthearted film fans. Rather, it is dark, murky, troubling at times (the psychedelic scene when a young Brian is imagining different voices and noises in his head is rather frightening).
Wilson is played by two different actors, first in the 1960’s and later the 1980’s. Paul Dano stars as a young Wilson in the early stages of his career, filled with passion for life, art, and music, talented beyond belief, but clearly in the onset stages of paranoia, thanks in large part to his critical father, a demanding, angry man, quite possibly envious of Brian’s talents as a songwriter, who always wanted more from Brian. In fact, Wilson’s father managed Brian and his brothers to success, but at a huge cost and was ready to bail when the “next big thing” came along. Miraculously, through conflict with his father and other members of the band, Wilson was able to complete the Beach Boys masterpiece, Pet Sounds, a groundbreaking album from the late 1960’s. The film shows the struggles faced to achieve this success.
In later years John Cusack takes over the role of Brian. By this point in his life he is damaged and he is a full blown neurotic, insecure, and dependent on his psychotherapist, Dr. Landy, brilliantly played by Paul Giamatti. Landy has control of Wilson’s assets and will destroy anyone who interferes in this. The scenes in which he screams at and berates a drugged out Brian Wilson to create music are tough to stomach. When Wilson romances future wife Melinda Ledbetter, played by Elizabeth Banks, she ultimately saves his life as she is determined to rescue Brian from the wicked abuse and adjust the toxic levels of medications he was kept on.
I left the movie theater unsure of the factual accuracy of the film and pondering the following questions. Did, in fact, Brian’s wife swoop into his life and “save” him as neatly as the film explains? How instrumental was the maid in this process? Was the Wilson brothers’ father as much as a monster as the movie portrayed him? Was Giamatti’s vicious psychotherapist role true to life or were the aforementioned aspects of Love and Mercy embellished ever so slightly for moviemaking magic? One wonders, but from a film perspective, Love and Mercy really works well as a work that takes risks, does not go for softness or niceness, and gives a character study that is quite admirable.