Review: Love & Mercy Is A Well Acted Look Into The Life Of Brian Wilson Of The Beach Boys
Title: Love & Mercy
Director: Bill Pohlad
Screenwriter: Oren Moverman (written by), Michael A. Lerner (written by), and Brian Wilson (life)
Principal Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Kenny Wormald, and Audree Wilson
Summary: 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.
I have exactly two confessions that I have to make when it comes to a review of Love & Mercy. 1. I didn’t have any knowledge of The Beach Boys aside from listening to their most famous songs. 2. I am a huge sucker of biopics that are really well done. The second one probably has something to do with being one of those people that would read a history book for fun and who posts random bits of information on social media all the time, but I like learning about new things. The cast also looked very good so I went in with almost no knowledge about what I was about to go watch.
Love & Mercy is a very interesting look into one of the great artists of the late 20th century and features great dual performances by John Cusack and Paul Dano.
One of the lovely things about going into a movie with almost no knowledge about it is that I get to be surprised. I hadn’t even seen a trailer for Love & Mercy so I was quite pleased to see that I was going to see two different stories. There was the “present day” or in the 1980’s when Brian Wilson (John Cusack) met Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), and twenty years in the past when Brian (Paul Dano) was just beginning to get sick. I don’t want to say his mental illness is a “twist” since it’s based on a true story, but as someone who didn’t know it almost came as a surprise. I say almost because as someone who struggles with my own form of mental illness I saw the signs almost right away. It was fascinating to watch Brian struggle as a young man and as an older man with something that is not only life changing but so hard to treat.
The problem with me not knowing anything about the history of Brian Wilson or The Beach Boys was that my first instinct was to question any of the really dramatic moments because I wasn’t sure how true they were. It was one of those moments where I wished I had a screener DVD and could watch it at my house where I could pause and do a little research. Films are so notorious for embellishing that I second guess everything that is “based on a true story” right away. Whether that is my fault for being uninformed about the movie I was going to see or Hollywood for wrecking any trust I have in them to tell the truth, I’m not sure. However, from what I could tell from some basic googling, Love & Mercy changes some things for dramatic purposes but remains fairly true to what really happened.
This is really a two man show between Cusack and Dano as we have two actors playing the same person at different times in his life. This isn’t like a flashback where we don’t spend a lot of time with the “present” actor so inconsistencies are easier to hand wave away. In this case the movie is 50/50 so Dano and Cusack had to remain consistent. If they hadn’t it would have affected the movie, but I’m pleased to say that they worked very well together despite never having a scene together (for obvious reasons). It must have taken a lot of work and communication to make a role like this work and they both did a great job. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t say that the great Paul Giamatti isn’t great as the shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy treating older Brian. Director Bill Pohlad does a very good job of capturing the two different time periods, but he tends to rely on the handheld camera for the scenes that took place in the 1960’s. I understand that he is going for the documentary look, but there were times when half the shot was dark from a window frame or wall and it was distracting for me.
Love & Mercy shows a different angle of mental illness that doesn’t always get enough attention; the actual suffering of the person. It shows how much it can ruin a life if left untreated or treated improperly. While I was afraid that Love & Mercy would try to tell me that all can be cured with love it safely avoids that trope. It was a very interesting story that is well acted and worth a look if you enjoy biopics or The Beach Boy’s music.