LOVE AND MERCY
2015, R, 120 mins.
2015, R, 120 mins.
Paul Dano as Brian Wilson / John Cusack as Brian Wilson - Older / Paul Giamatti as Dr. Eugene Landy / Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter / Kenny Wormald as Dennis Wilson / Jake Abel as Mike Love / Erin Darke as Marilyn Wilson / Joanna Going as Audree Wilson / Brett Davern as Carl Wilson
Directed by Bill Pohlad / Written by Oren Moverman and Michael Lerner
It was once said of Catcher in the Rye:
Bill Pohladís LOVE AND MERCY is unlike just about any other big screen musical biopic that Iíve seen.
film focuses on the life of one of the founding members of The
Beach Boys in Brian Wilson, but to ostensibly label it as a Beach Boys
biopic would be completely misleading.
Itís more of a piece centered on Wilson himself, compellingly
told via two distinct vantage points (during the 1960ís and the
1980ís) and even has two accomplished actors in Paul Dano and John
Cusack playing the iconic musician during those respective time periods.
In a way, LOVE AND MERCY is a parallel narrative that chronicles
the younger Wilson with the older, the former showing tell tale signs of an
emerging mental disorder and the latter displaying them more in full bloom.
The unconventional structure of the film sometimes betrays itself
at times, but LOVE AND MERCY creates a powerfully complex portrait of one
of popular musicís most significant contributors and pioneers.
film rickshaws back and forth Ė sometimes fluidly, sometimes awkwardly
Ė from the 60ís to the 80ís, but itís held
together immensely by the ample talents of its two main stars.
In the 60ís Wilson (Dano) is at the absolute pinnacle of his
career in music as both a member of the Beach Boys and as an integral song
writing force for them. Performing
on the stage in front of his legions of fans all over the world appears to
maintain very little, if any, interest to Wilson.
Heís most comfortable when it comes to the behind-the-scenes
aspect of making the music itself.
Despite the fact that his ex-manager and father (Bill Camp)
provides next to no support for him and his music, Wilson pushes forward
in hopes of creating the groupís ultimate magnum opus: "Pet
Sounds". Thereís some
problems along the journey of this creative endeavor, though: Wilson
suffers from a near paralyzing panic attack while on tour and, to make
matters worse, he begins to hear voices in his head that makes his own sense
of sanity come into question.
other timeline in the 80ís features the older Wilson (Cusack, in fine
form, but nevertheless kind of distractingly dissimilar in physical
appearance form both Dano and the real Wilson himself), whom seems like a shell
of the younger man he used to be. Having
his mind and spirit ravaged by years of drug use and chronicle mental
illness, Wilson is now under the constant 24/7 medicated care of Dr.
Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti, proving here as he did in STRAIGHT
OUTTA COMPTON what an empowered actor he can be even while
sporting a hilariously fake looking wig).
Landy has a ďtake no prisonersĒ approach to treating Wilsonís
apparent schizophrenia, which has the negative side effect of leaving the
former pop icon in a perpetually zoned out haze.
There isnít a single moment of Wilsonís life thatís not
micromanaged by his domineering doctor, but fate steps in when Wilson has
a chance meeting with an attractive car salesman Melinda Ledbetter
(Elizabeth Banks) while shopping for a new Cadillac.
After one of the oddest meet cutes in modern movie history, Melinda
and Wilson begin seeing each other, but she begins to see the obvious and
damaging signs of Landyís intrusion in Wilsonís life, which leads to her
doubting whether or not heís actually a positive conduit of change in
could be said that since LOVE AND MERCY is about a man thatís
potentially schizoid then it should also have an overall narrative
structure thatís equally all over the map.
I still canít decide Ė even days after seeing this film Ė
whether Michael Alan Lernerís and Oren Movermanís screenplay
ultimately helps or hurts the overall handling of Wilsonís story.
On one hand, spontaneously jumping back and forth between the
filmís two distinct timelines is kind of liberating and fascinating in
approach, not to mention that it gives LOVE AND MERCY a forward thrust
that many musical biopics Ė often stuck in pure expositional
storytelling mode Ė often lack. Yet,
thereís no denying that the two timelines donít really coalesce as
well as the writerís think they do: They're certainly linked by their
shared characters and their struggles with mental breakdowns, but overall
they feel oddly detached from each other.
Throughout most of LOVE AND MERCY I felt more like I was watching
two films struggling to intersect with each other than I was one film with
all of its divergent parts working harmoniously in tandem with one
I had to choose one period that I found most intriguing then it would be
the Dano-centric Wilson years, mostly because of the manner than the actor
fully immerses himself in the musician and reveals him to be a figure that
strove to legitimately achieve artistic innovation in the face of mounting
personal stresses. It's
during this period that LOVE AND MERCY taps into the complex art of making
music perhaps better than any music biopic that Iíve seen. The filmís depiction of the entire songwriting and music
making process is boundlessly enthralling, showing Wilson frantically
running through his studio while orchestrating dozens of musicians using
seemingly incongruent instruments to create an auditory sensation not felt
before in the medium. Watching
Danoís Wilson command everyone in his presence to comprehend and
understand the bold and risky choices he was making to meticulously
construct now legendary tunes like ďGood VibrationsĒ makes LOVE AND
MERCY mesmerizing. Thereís
also a suggestion that Wilson created some of The Beach Boysí songs and
their highly unique soundstages as a cathartic manner of dealing with his
own hallucinations. Either
way, Dano is magnificent in portraying the increasingly unstable, but
artistically ingenious Wilson throughout the film.
Wilson, on the other hand, never comes off as fully rendered or
interesting as Danoís, mostly because, as mentioned, Cusack bares little
resemblance to the real man heís portraying.
Nevertheless, Cusack does credibly evoke the pill-induced stupor
that the elder Wilson went through with authentic strokes, showing a man
trapped inwardly within the prison of his own mind and outwardly by the
oppressively strict handling of his doctor.
Arguably, Giamattiís performance during this era of the film is
the most thought provoking, seeing as tries to show Landy as a relatively
kind and well meaning soul that happens to have his own psychological
issues in terms of his obsessive-compulsive behavior directed towards
overseeing Wilsonís treatment and life. Giamatti is an actor thatís magnificent at coming off as
both congenial and smarmy in his roles, and thatís no exception here;
heís quietly intense and frightening as Landy.
I have a considerable amount of respect for what LOVE AND MERCY was trying to do with its source material, but the main issues with the film, again, are with how it did it. On one hand, itís a thoroughly satisfying and refreshingly unorthodox musical biopic, which is noteworthy seeing as the genre has been awash in overused troupes for far too long. The film centers on what made artists like Wilson tick Ė in more ways than one Ė and how they managed to create musical masterpieces from the ground up. LOVE AND MERCY is a very rare musical biopic that actually pays respect to the music crafting process itself. I only wished that the filmís distinctive handling of its two time periods gelled together more finely and felt organically complete. LOVE AND MERCY emerges almost as a two for the price of one filmgoing experience, but only one of those films truly works, leaving the overall effort feeling a bit too unwieldy for its own good. However, as a stirring testament to the tormented life and times of Wilson, LOVE AND MERCY deserves to be seen, especially for showing him at the zenith of his artistic prowess and for rightfully showcasing what a seismic creative force he was in the 60ís that changed popular music forever.