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Review - Love and Mercy

By midlandsmovies, Aug 27 2015 09:22AM

Love & Mercy (2015) Dir. Bill Pohlad

This biographical drama follows the life of Brian Wilson during two time periods – the height of the Beach Boys’ fame in the 60s and his turbulent later years in the 80s where a confused Wilson deals with ‘hangers-on’ and controlling advisors. The swinging section has a brilliant Paul Dano (who I last saw in the 2013’s dark thriller Prisoners) quitting touring after an episode on a plane to focus on his song-writing to challenge The Beatles' new album “Rubber Soul”.

In the 80s, Cusack plays a more vulnerable Wilson who gets around with his new (second) wife Melinda – played by the ever-improving Elizabeth Banks – but their relationship is strained by Paul Giamatti’s creepy psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy. Landy is ever-present in Brian’s life controlling his decisions and ‘prescription’ drug intake.

The Beach Boys’ music punctuates the film from recreations of concerts to Dano simply sitting at a piano discovering his genius pop-hits as he moves from sea and sand to the studio.

His tortured sensitivities are portrayed well by a soft-spoken Cusack but Dano holds the flame, not for the least part that he has a look that is genuinely uncanny of a young Wilson. Maybe a little bit of a prosthetic or a wig on Cusack would have sold his turn visually but this is a minor criticism of a good performance. Cusack’s understatement lacks the punch of Dano’s mania but the intense/restrained one-two punch mostly works as a reflection of Wilson’s fractured subconscious.

Experimental in narrative, the grainy 60s footage further sells the realism and contrasts the slick filming of the 80s sections. Conflicts in the band as Wilson stretches himself mentally and musically result in a breakdown of relationships and of his mind as they worry about their brother spiralling out of control. Cacophonies of cutlery cloud his poor health as he splits from reality and his family as the fun-fun-fun loving, vibration-writing Brian drowns in his mad genius, bridging the two parts of the story.

For this reviewer, I could have watched Dano all day and ridding the film of the 80s portion would have been no big deal for me at all. That said, Giamatti’s poisonous Dr Landy is an over the top joy (although the writers claim they in fact toned him down from the recordings they had of him) and Cusack is brilliant but sad to say, slightly boring. Surfin’ through Wilson’s life from the two angles gives the film a structure unlike other movies of this genre and as a musician myself, my favourite sequences were the weird and wonderful recording sessions – one part traditional vocals and 2 parts trying to test new aural avenues.

A superb film focusing on the brilliant brain of Brian, wouldn’t it be nice to see both Cusack and (especially) Dano rewarded at the next award season for their perfect portrayal of the mastermind musician.


Midlands Movies Mike

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