In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. (IMDB)
Writer: Rupert Goold
Director: Bill Pohlad
Stars: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Run time/Rating: 121 Minutes/ PG-13
Popcorn Score: Large Popcorn
Although Love and Mercy focuses entirely on the Beach Boys musical leader Brian Wilson, it provides such a narrow focus that it cannot serve as a true biopic about his life. That narrow focus revolves almost entirely around his mental psychosis, arguably brought on when he started taking psychedelic drugs, and how it affected him throughout two separate periods of his life.
For Love and Mercy those two segments are the mid to late 60’s and the 80’s. Although both interesting times in the man’s life, they are no more than two fairly brief periods showcased with nothing provided to bridge the gap between the two, in turn not feeling compete. What happened to Brian Wilson in the interim which I believe to be the majority of the 70’s. Which is another issue I have with the film in that time frames are not provided at all, I am just estimating the dates. The movie forces the viewer to decipher the year based on previous knowledge, clothing style, and decor. If you press play on Love and Mercy with hopes to learn about the complete life of Brian Wilson you will unfortunately be confused and left putting together pieces. That amount of necessary work and vagueness leads me to believe this film will resonate for Brian Wilson/Beach Boys fans first and foremost and not necessarily for the average moviegoer.
The movie working within its self-induced restrictions had some absolute brilliant takeaways. None more than the decision to have two different actors in Paul Dano and John Cusack play Wilson in the different time periods of his life. The fragments are such different times that I believe the dual casting helps to indicate the truly changed man that Brian Wilson was in those different periods of his life. Both Dano and Cusack gave an amazing portrayal which was even both in acting merit and style down to the haunting look of the eyes and speaking style. To play an emotionally changed man with the subtleties they did is impressive.
The other aspect of the movie which I absolutely loved is the way it showed Dano as a young Wilson in his artistic height arrange and conduct the musicians and music within the studio. Despite his emotional and mental challenges it showed that when he was doing what he did well, he was as great as any modern musician.
The film bounces back between the two time periods which is such an interesting way to tell its story. Perhaps the best way. John Cousack’s portrayal as the broken down middle aged iconic artist “assisted” nearly 24/7 by an overpowering and manipulative psychiatrist played by Paul Giamatti is haunting at times because of his depressed nature and the little power he has over his own life. It is not until his new acquaintance and girlfriend Melinda Ledbetter peals back the layers in Wilson and his DR’s relationship that she reviles how toxic it is and interjects. Compared side by side with the portrayal of Wilson in his late 20s-30’s at his artistic height all while dealing with an abusive father, band issues and onsets of psychosis, the entire movie is eerier than what was expected for a film about the writer of Fun Fun Fun.
I loved Love and Mercy for the snapshot that it is, but only wish it could have presented a more complete picture worthy of the man who if not for him, there would be no Beach Boys.