“I’ve got all kinds of new ideas, new sounds, new instruments,” says young Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) to his brothers/ band mates while trying to justify his desire to not tour with them in the dramatic biopic Love & Mercy based on Wilson’s incredible life.
In the 1960s young Brian Wilson is the creative driver and leader of The Beach Boys, coming up with music and words in his head, composing the songs, teaching them to his brothers, and performing and recording all the songs. At times, Brian alienates his family with some of his musical choices. He also constantly feels enormous pressure to be successful from his brothers, friends, father, and even himself. While creating hit after hit and searching for his rock and roll masterpiece gold record, Brian begins to struggle with an ever growing psychosis that includes hearing voices in his head, being sensitive to normal everyday sounds like the pouring of drinks and eating off of plates, and develops a growing paranoia.
In the 1980s, an older Brian Wilson (played by John Cusack) is a confused, over-medicated, and lost man who meets and immediately begins to fall for Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a car sales person he meets while looking to buy a car. Attracted to and interested in Brian, Melinda agrees to go out with him and discovers on their first date that they will not be alone but chaperoned by Brian’s therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). As their relationship begins to grow Melinda quickly realizes that Landy is an overbearing, controlling, and manipulative man who’s determined to control every aspect of Brian’s life and squeeze another hit record out of him no matter what the cost. Being in love with Brian and not wanting to see him at the mercy of Landy, Melinda struggles to find a legal way to get Brian away from Landy (who’s been named his legal guardian) and get Brian back to his life and maybe just maybe a life with her.
Inspired by the life of Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy is a powerful, intriguing, ambitious, and moving film with stellar performances by Paul Dano, John Cusack, and Elizabeth Banks. Dano’s performance captures perfectly young Wilson’s energy, creative drive, and self-doubt as well as his early stages of mental psychosis. Cusack delivers one of the best performances of his career as the older Brian Wilson who can barely get out of bed and dress himself but finds new purpose and love in his life when he meets Melinda.
Elizabeth Banks, however, is the real scene-stealer in director Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy as Melinda, the car saleswoman who finds herself falling for Brian – a man whose music she grew up listening to – and fighting to save him from the unscrupulous Dr. Landy to hopefully get him back to his own life. There’s a scene set in a restaurant in which Brian tells Melinda about his family’s troubled past and being punished harshly as a child by his father, and it works incredibly well and is so compelling because of Bank’s expressive face. She communicates so much without saying a word. It’s hands-down the best performance of her career.
The production design, costumes, and look of the film is terrific with the different hair styles, outfits, cars, and music all bringing back to life the look and feel of both the 1960s and the 1980s. The film also has a great soundtrack that features a selection of The Beach Boys’ songs.
One of the only drawbacks to Love & Mercy is the lack of pacing and the film’s rhythm. The movie jumps back and forth from the 1960s to the 1980s without any coherence, and at times becomes disruptive in telling both stories. Still, with unforgettable performances and an engrossing true story about one of America’s legendary songwriters, Love & Mercy IS quite simply one of the best films of the year and a real must see.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content and language
Running time: 120 minutes
Release date: June 5, 2015
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