Love & Mercy
Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy tells the story of Beach Boys lead Brian Wilson as he deals with mental issues while working on a change of direction for the band in the 1960s coupled with his troubled life with a shady therapist in the 1980s.
The life of Brian Wilson is an interesting one so it’s definitely a good story to cover in a biopic such as this. Love & Mercy connects two important periods of Brian’s life through the central theme of finding his voice. BLove & Mercyrian Wilson in the 60s is played by Paul Dano who puts himself into exile to work on a new sound for the band and Brian Wilson in the 80s is played by John Cusack at a point in his life where has been exiled from life against his will.
A tightly focused narrative on pivotal points in Brian Wilson’s life really serves this film well. The story takes the time it needs to explore the emotional impact of these points rather than rushing past them to get to the next thing. It feels almost like a documentary some of the time.
Paul Dano has the most to work with here and he does a great job at capturing the nuance of the young Brian Wilson at a pivotal point in his career. I always found it believable that he knew his stuff about music and the creative process. Dano gives the role an infectious sense of energy that is always a lot of fun to watch. There’s always a dark edge to everything he does as Wilson is spiraling further into depression as time goes on. The basic structure has his decline be the inverse to his creativity so the more music he creates the worse his mental state gets.
The film spends quite a bit of time establishing Brian Wilson in the 60s so the audience gets a good idea of who he is before his problems really began which makes the transition all the more powerful. His world is seen to be quite a poisonous one with various influences colouring his perception and his strained relationship with his father (Bill Camp).
Lots of this part of the film is set in confined locations like recording studios where the lack of space is clearly shown. The audience can almost feel the walls closing in on Brian as he slowly loses it. That level of isolation can’t be good for anyone and the film shows that it’s certainly not good for Brian.
John Cusack’s Brian Wilson is pretty much the opposite. Gone is that youthful energy or even the spark of life that is so prominent in Dano’s performance. Cusack plays the shell of the man he once was as his condition has completely run its course. The performance is more subdued but no less powerful as Brian Wilson has become someone who isn’t in control of his life and only has a basic awareness of the world around him.
His connection to the world around him manifests itself in his relationship with Melinda Ledbetter, (Elizabeth Banks) a car saleswoman he meets when looking for a new car. She finds herself taken by him and starts to notice that he might not be getting the best care from his full time carer Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). It’s not difficult to find out that Landy is something of a villainous presence as Giamatti plays him as being slimy and constantly unsettling. Maybe it was that obvious in reality I’m not sure.
This part of the film treats Wilson as something of a secondary character with Melinda taking the lead here. It makes sense from a storytelling point of view as at this point in his life Wilson has a complete lack of agency so is incapable of thinking for himself or doing anything under his own power. It’s quite heartbreaking to see such an iconic figure reduced to a husk of his former self.
John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks have excellent chemistry in these scenes and Banks delivers a solid leading performance as a woman who will do anything to help someone when she knows that they’re being treated unfairly. There’s a goodness to her and an inherent strength that makes her very engaging to watch.
The 1960s scenes are stronger than the scenes set in the 1980s but both have their merits. At times the 1980s scenes have a tendency to run a little long and on occasion repeat a point that had already been well made earlier. It’s all entertaining to watch but occasionally drags as repetition sets in.
This is definitely worth checking out. It’s a fascinating look at the life of a musical icon and always entertaining throughout. The dual performances of Paul Dano and John Cusack as Brian Wilson at different points in his life work really well as they feel different enough while still being the same person. Despite a tendency to drag in the 1980s set scenes this is a definite must see.
A fascinating exploration of the life of Brian Wilson with a strong focus on the two significant points of his descent into poor mental health and the beginning of his recovery.
Paul Dano and John Cusack playing the role of Brian Wilson at different parts of his life works really well. Dano plays Wilson with a youthful energy that hides a darker edge as he slowly spirals out of control. He is always believable as someone who is both musically talented and very knowledgable. Cusack’s performance is much more subdued which makes sense as he is playing Wilson as a pale shell of his former self.
The scenes in the 60s are definitely the strongest but there is more to work with. Wilson’s descent into ill health is handled expertly and great care is taken to show the external factors that contributed to it as well as the internal ones. There are a lot of powerful scenes and the musical interludes are always entertaining.
That’s not to say that the 80s scenes are bad by any stretch. There is a tendency to repeat the same points that were made earlier and some scenes run a little long but it is still well put together. Having Elizabeth Banks’ Melinda Ledbetter be the focus in this part of the film makes sense as at this point Wilson has a lack of agency in his own life so needs an external force to move things along. She does a great job of leading this part of the narrative as a woman determined to help and has excellent chemistry with Cusack. Paul Giamatti’s slimy therapist/carer Dr. Eugene Landy seems a little on the nose in terms of an antagonistic force but maybe it was that obvious in real life.
This is definitely a film worth seeing as it presents a very candid look at the life of one of music’s biggest icons. The dual lead of Dano and Cusack works really well and the use of two time periods to tell the story is an excellent choice. Despite a tendency towards repetition in the 1980s scenes this film remains entertaining throughout and the musical interludes are a lot of fun.