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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Love and Mercy | Paul Dano, John Cusak, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti | Review

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3sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE Judy Thorburn

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3lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE

 

Love & Mercy

You would not know by the title, but Love & Mercy is a biopic of Brian Wilson, co-founder, lead singer/songwriter of the Beach Boys that chronicles the struggles of the legendary pop artist.

Director Bill Pohlad (who produced 12 Years a Slave and The Tree of Life) working from a script by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner, approaches the subject matter in an unconventional way, with a narrative that alternates between two eras with two different actors portraying Wilson at those different periods of his life.

Paul Dano (who said he gained 30 lbs for the role) portrays Wilson in his 20's during the  1960's when the Beach Boys were in their heyday and Wilson was at the peak of his creativity, culminating with the 1966 album, “Pet Sounds,” that stretched the bounderies of pop music with ground breaking arrangements, and is widely considered one of the greatest albums of all time.

While he began to show signs of mental illness, suffering from panic attacks and hearing voices in his head, the focus is on Wilson's recording sessions where he brought in some of best musicians in Los Angeles, that were later labeled 'The Wrecking Crew”, to get the precise and distinctive sound he wanted.  There were also clashes with Brian's cousin and fellow Beach Boy, Mike Love (Jake Abel) over creative differences and interference from Brian's abusive father and one time Beach Boy's manager Murry Wilson (Bill Camp) whose beatings and verbal put downs, left his son with both physical and psychological scars.  Yet, as time would tell, Murry wasn't the only real life villain to make an indellible mark on Wilson's life.

Switching ahead to the 1980s, John Cusack plays Wilson in his 40's when he was under the guardianship, control and manipulation of the unscrupulous, psychotherapist Dr Eugene Landry (a creepy, one dimensional Paul Giamatti) who diagnosed his “patient” as a paranoid schizophrenic, kept him overly medicated, and cut him off from his family and friends. When the reclusive Wilson managed to sneak off to buy a Cadillac, he met and fell in love with the pretty blonde saleswoman at the dealership,  Melinda Ledbetter (a terrific Elizabeth Banks) who would become his second wife.  As a protective and loving woman, she was his one shining light who came to realize the damaging effect the evil doctor had on Wilson's life and became his saviour.

The best elements of the film are the strong performances from Dano, Cusack and Banks.  Dano resembles the young Brian and is especially tuned into his persona, mannerisms and mindset.  It is another magnificent performance by the actor who has proven to be one of the best of his generation. The always dependable Cusack turns in a low key, good performance as the older, childlike Brian, but the fact that he and Dano don't look at all alike is a glaring distraction that makes it unable to suspend disbelief that they are the same person.  And that isn't the only trouble with this uneven, bio graphical treatment. For one thing, several questions are left unanswered, such is how did Wilson get mixed up with the doctor in the first place, why was Landry able to get away with his horrendous control for so long, and why Brian divorced his first wife, Marilyn (Erin Darke) who in their brief scenes together seemed supportive and loving.  Alot of details and key elements are glossed over (including the 1983 death of his brother, Dennis, which is mentioned but not addressed) or completely left out.  With the focus on Brian, and with the exception of the scenes where Brian and Mike Love butt heads, Brian's brothers Carl (Brett Davern) and Dennis Wilson (Kenny Wormald), and their bandmate Al Jardine are relagated to few interactions, with most of their time spent on the sidelines.

The soundtrack, featuring several classics, including "Surfin' U.S.A." "Fun, Fun, Fun, should draw avid fans of the Beach Boys' music and those interested in Wilson, the band's creative genious.  As for me, I was never a big fan of the Beach Boys, athough I find biographical films on the whole, to be insightful. However, this treatment, much like the band's music, did not hit a memorable chord with me.

By the way, Love & Mercy is the title of an 1988 song by Brian Wilson that he is seen performing during the closing credits.

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