Written by Oren Moverman & Michael A. Lerner
Directed by Bill Pohlad
Starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti
Brian Wilson: There’s this song playing over and over in my head; I just don’t have the words or the melody.
Think you’ve “been there, seen that” when it comes to the music biopic? Think again. Producer Bill Pohlad (12 YEARS A SLAVE, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) turns his attention to directing in LOVE & MERCY, an imaginative and emotionally absorbing film based on the life of Brian Wilson, the brilliant and tortured mind behind The Beach Boys.
Paul Dano (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE) plays 1960’s Wilson, a young man at the height of his career and popularity. But after suffering a debilitating panic attack during a flight, he convinces his bandmates that he’d be better suited at home writing and recording while they’re off touring. They leave, he goes into the studio and we see his decades-long struggle emerge as the voices in his head begin to clamour for attention and he starts his descent into mental illness.
The film alternates between the 1960’s and the 1980’s as an older, sedated Wilson (played by John Cusack) tries to start his life over, this time under the legal guardianship of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti, SIDEWAYS). When Wilson walks into a Cadillac dealership, he meets salesperson Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks, PITCH PERFECT 2) and the two are taken with each other. Their attempt to begin a relationship is thwarted at every turn by the constant interfering and gross manipulation of Dr. Landy and before long, Miranda begins to realize that the fragile Wilson is far from getting the care he actually needs.
Well-written, expertly acted and brilliantly directed, LOVE & MERCY destroys the Hollywood formula so often applied when it comes to this type of film. There is no glossing over of the issues Wilson faced and it’s often uncomfortable to watch – or listen to, as Pohlad literally brings the inner noise the musician endured to the screen. You’re caught up in the loneliness this gifted man must have felt in an era when behaviour that would now be recognized as worrisome was just dismissed as that of a controlling and frustrating bandmate. What’s more, the music is central, arguably a character in and of itself; not merely the songs, but the actual music and the unconventional, seemingly bizarre process Wilson applied to songwriting and recording. Much of the film is dedicated to his time in the studio and the hours spent trying to perfect the “vibrations” and how he was ultimately able to turn deafening mental confusion into some of the most popular hits of the ‘60s.