Love & Mercy

beachboysLove & Mercy tells the story of two Brian Wilsons (the heart and soul of the Beach Boys): 1960s Brian, portrayed by Paul Dano, at the height of his creative genius, working doggedly on a game-changing album that no one else believes in while fighting the ugly spectre of an abusive father, and 1980s Brian, portrayed by John Cusack, a broken shell of a man under the care of and heavily medicated by a shady, domineering psychiatrist.

Both Brians are sad to watch on-screen. No matter how much or how little you know about Brian Wilson’s life going in, you do know the Beach Boys, and you understand pretty quickly that the Beach Boys were nothing without him. The man was so talented that he took a harmonizing boy band in matching shirts and pushed them toward musical complexity to rival (and inspire) The Beatles. And he did it all while in the throes of a nervous breakdown.

The recording sessions in the film were some of my favourite. Sean has a nice little vinyl collection and of course Pet Sounds has always been part of it – Rolling Stone’s definitive list of the top 500 albums OF ALL TIME rates Pet Sounds at #2, only being eclipsed by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album The Beatles made in response to their hearing and adoring Pet Sounds. So it was really neat to see and hear the hard work and the many layers and the sheer creativity that went into producing a sound that had never been heard before. And even if you don’t know the album, I guarantee you’ve known some of these songs for nearly your whole life. They’re part of our cultural lexicon. And now you get to peek behind the curtain thanks to scenes that were mostly improvised with real studio musicians and shot in a documentary style with 16mm handheld cameras.

This is not a traditional biopic. It depicts two very specific times in Brian Wilson’s life, and this parallel narrative is very effective, contrasting the height of his career with his crashing mental 01-love-and-mercy.w529.h352.2xand emotional downfall. We see him change from vitality to despondency, and to heighten that disparity, director Bill Pohlad kept actors Cusack and Dano separate so that they would each develop their own organic understanding of Wilson in their respective time periods. In the second portion, the John Cusack years, Paul Giamatti plays Dr. Landy, the evil psychiatrist while Elizabeth Banks appears as a love interest. These two are of course at odds with each other and the battle over Brian Wilson, when Wilson is too traumatized and petrified to fight for himself, or to even recognize the need for it.

Tonnes of original Beach Boys recordings are featured throughout the movie, lots flawlessly mixed in with Paul Dano’s own voice. And I’m giving props to composer Atticus Ross who had a mountain of a task to compose a score that would flow in and out of all of these iconic songs, and yet he didn’t just do a competent job, he elevated things, drawing inspiration from such varied sources as The Beatles’ Revolution 9 to Jay-Z’s The Grey Album and it sounds exciting and alive and masterful.

boysThere are significant gaps in this film, which is narrow in its scope, but it is an otherwise mournfully accurate account. Lots of the characters and events feel larger than life but if anything, Wilson felt that perhaps some were treated “too fairly” and after all he’s been through, you can understand where that’s coming from. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, from the recreation of several Beach Boys album covers to Elizabeth Banks’ impressive 80s garb, and as much as I can tell you so, you really just have to see it yourself.


29 thoughts on “Love & Mercy

      1. reocochran

        I am a huge Beach Boys fan. My rock and roll brother says the layers in some of his songs. He likes some song I added to a blog post which has vegetables in it? 🙂


  1. Sean

    I loved this movie. It really did a great job of showing the two sides of Brian Wilson: tortured, mentally ill and abused musical genius. Like you, my favourite scenes were the Pet Sounds-related ones. It was so amazing to see how that album was constructed, and Brian Wilson has confirmed their accuracy as far as the studio work he did to come up with one of the best albums of all time (and arguably #1). This is a must-see for any music fan.


  2. Sean

    P.S. Another verified fact, as stated in the movie, is that Paul McCartney has named “God Only Knows” as his all-time favourite song. I’m not sure any higher praise could be given.


  3. Jay Post author

    There is a period of time between the two eras featured in the movie where Brian Wilson literally took to his bed. 3 years of this, unbelievably. For a time the director thought about mounting this third scenario with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role. It’s a tantalizing thing to think about, but I didn’t miss it in the finished product. Although it does not cover his whole life, it still manages to imply quite a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. sidekickreviews

    Cool review. I’ve been a fan of Beach Boys;Brian Wilson’s life is really fascinating. I actually read his biography lone time ago, some great anecdotes in there like how he lost hearing in one of his ear. Cusack doesn’t look like Wilson but I’m interested in seeing his performance.


    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, we only caught it at one of those great neighbourhood arty cinemas that show things the cineplex isn’t\won’t. I think you’ll like it when you come across it!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. kmSalvatore

    Thanks Jay. Nice job with your write up! I haven’t seen this yet. But, you brought up (once again) some awesome memories for me. The Beach Boys .. It was my very first concert. They played in the old AUD in downtown Buffalo ,NY, I was in 5 or 6 grade..
    Weather you grew up liking them or not.. They were IT! And you always found your self humming one of their songs.


  6. Brittani

    Great review! I enjoyed this one too. I’m a massive Paul Dano fan. It’s such a long shot for him to get any awards recognition for this, but I’d love it if he snuck in on the Globes race. They could throw it in the Musical and Comedy category, right? lol

    Liked by 1 person

  7. J.

    I’m really keen to see this one despite initial weariness about the casting there (I just couldn’t see Cusack as Brian Wilson). Everything I read seems to suggest that it’s pretty great and that both are brilliant. This included. Hurrah!


  8. Pingback: Awards Season Kickoff | ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s