The legendary Beach Boys are making a comeback in the form of a biopic film depicting the life of their creative leader, Brian Wilson. The sound of this group is iconic and synonymous with summer fun. But fun wasn’t always the chorus in Wilson’s life score. The film takes us from the beginnings of the group, its peak, and all the unpleasantries of success and failures, particularly the personal ones. Wrought with manipulation, mental illness, drug use, and recovery, “Love & Mercy” has it all.
We step back in time to an era when “Fun, Fun, Fun,” and “California Girls” were heard endlessly on the radio in the mid 1960’s. Meeting the younger Beach Boys, we are transported to this era with the grainy texture to the film, almost as if we are seeing actual footage of this group. We are then quickly introduced to Brian’s creative side as well as his mental instabilities. Now, flash forward in time to the 1980’s. We meet the older, very medicated, and broken version of Brian Wilson (John Cusack). The film continues this non-linear story-telling technique in seamless style, stitching together the complete story of Brian’s life and those who influenced it, both negatively and positively.
Paul Dano’s performance of the younger version of Brian paints a picture of a very creative and troubled young man. He’s simply stellar in this role, allowing us to see who this genuinely talented, yet different, musician is. John Cusack also has a stand-out performance as the older version of Brian. His affect or lack thereof, astutely portrays this shell of a man. There are glimpses that Cusack allows us to see of the Brian that is hiding beneath the trauma and medication and with this, we have sympathy and love for this man. The strength in the cast continues as Elizabeth Banks plays Melinda Ledbetter. This atypical role for her allows her to shine brightly, showcasing her amazing skills as an actress. She is the heart and soul of this film. And Paul Giamatti is just the opposite of heart and soul with his outstanding performance as the manipulative, self-centered, heartless control freak Dr. Eugene Landy. I would expect nothing less from this talented actor as he creates the monster that dragged Wilson into what could have been his demise.
The outstanding cast is nothing without an interesting and well-written script. As I said before, “Love & Mercy” has it all. The type of story-telling, attempting to meld together an older and a younger version of the main character is difficult to say the least. The writers and director allow a flawless depiction of the story to unfold before us. The film truly captures the creative process in music production as well as the personalities and atrocities that shape our futures. Mental illness, abuse, and drugs are at the forefront of Wilson’s life, but it is the love and kindness of just one person that makes a difference and truly saves Wilson.
“Love & Mercy” is a beautifully creative story depicting the rather tragic life of Brian Wilson. The Beach Boys were a part of many of our lives and the songs live on, but Brian Wilson’s story isn’t over. The tragic life becomes a triumphant one and “Love & Mercy” perfectly portrays this.
The writing, directing and above all else, the performances of the main cast, are absolutely outstanding. The attention to detail, music, and subtle nuances in every aspect of the presentation make this an engaging and entertaining story.