In theaters this week from director Bill Pohlad and Roadside Attractions comes an intense look at a Beach Boy life filled with “Love & Mercy.”
The film tells the story of Brian Wilson (Paul Dano), a song-writer and musician in the 1960s who, along with his brother Dennis (Kenny Wormald), friend Mike Love (Jake Abel) create the Beach Boys. Riding on a wave of success, Brian is beginning to show signs of mental problems.
Flash forward as Brian (John Cusak) meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) at a car dealership. Enjoying her company, they are interrupted by Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who clearly has a connection that Melinda doesn’t understand.
As they begin seeing each other, Brian tells Melinda of his illness and who Dr. Landy is in his life. When Dr. Landy feels threatened by Melinda, he cuts her off spouting that he is Brian’s guardian and is doing what is best for his patient.
Brian continues to remember every thing that happened with the Beach Boys, the relationships with his father and how his life came to this point. Melinda makes it a point to discover the secret that could possibly free Brian for the first time in his life.
Freedom was found in the music!
Dano as the younger Brian Wilson is absolutely amazing. Proudly admitting to be a Dano fan, this role just solidifies that he is an actor with serious chops. Watching the mixture of music and mental disorder colliding, Dano gives this performance heart and a brilliance surrounded by an insight to a time when mental illness was ignored. The relationship between father-son was so difficult to watch as Dan has the ability to show every ounce of hurt on his face.
Cusak as the older Brian Wilson is equally amazing. Showing a softer side, Cusak gives Wilson moments of pain and fear that come through the screen and into the audience. I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t to sure that this was a fit for Cusak but I’m happy to say he has more than proven me wrong.
Banks as Melinda gives this character bravery and heart. A strong woman from moment one, I knew early on that this was not a woman to be trifled with. Melinda’s slow immersion into the relationship with Brian also allows the audience to experience the story and join her in the fight to save him no matter what it cost her.
Giamatti as Dr. Landy is an absolute psycho hidden behind a Dr.’s title! Who could have imagined that Dr. Landy was such an incredible skuzzball and Giamatti plays it to the hilt. Knowing that this actually happened to Wilson is actually horrifying. The confrontation between Melinda and Dr. Landy is one for the books – the bigger there ego the harder they fall!
Other cast includes: Kenny Wormald as Dennis Wilson, Joanne Going as Audree Wilson,
Dee Wallace as Rosemary, Max Schneider as Van Dyke Parks, Graham Rogers as Al Jardine, Brett Davern as Carl Wilson and Erin Darke as Marilyn Wilson.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give “Love & Mercy” three and a half tubs of popcorn out of five. In the 120 minutes the audience experiences the highs and lows of Brian Wilson’s life. I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Dano, Cusak, Banks and Giamatti as they made the intense story work. It can be not only a difficult subject to portray but flashing from past to semi-present can be difficult to pull of — not the case with “Love & Mercy.”
Director Pohlad does an incredible job making the transition back and forth poignant and seamless in the film. Not being afraid of addressing all the issues that happened to Wilson, Pohlad takes it step by step and brings the music of Wilson, as well as the performances of the Beach Boys, as a character unto itself.
In the end — it is the life, love and genius of Brian Wilson.