For the most part, I tend to avoid films that begin with the word Love. I did a theme week a few years ago watching a whole lot of films that began with Love, and for the most part I was disappointed. Here’s a snapshot of those films and review ratings as simple reminder. Basically, since I watched Love and Other Drugs, no other Love film got close. A few strange ones did a good job, but for the most part, they were all meh, bad, or shit.
But new movies keep coming out, and occasionally they start with love. I still don’t mean that in a story telling sense. As I review new movies, I will of course still watch them, but I won’t actively seek out a film with this strange specification. Regardless, I was slightly interested to see Love & Mercy.
That is because this bad boy is about the “greatest rock album” of the 20th century, Pet Sounds by
The Beach Boys Brian Wilson!
Less surfing, more strange sounds and a journey through one’s mind.
So… mind surfing.
In the mid-1960’s, The Beach Boys were everywhere. In 4 years they had already released 10 albums, a lot of them about surfing. They were world famous, tours, money, all that fun stuff. But Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) wanted something more. None of them actually ever surfed, it all felt fake. He was a composer at heart and had a sound in his head that he needed to record and let the world hear!
So he didn’t tour with the group to focus on their next album. He pulled out all the strings, getting great orchaestra players to figure out the tunes and sounds without any words for most of the music yet. And he did what he always wanted to do, to make what would become the Pet Sounds album, despite all the naysayers.
Also, it is the mid-1980’s. Brian Wilson (John Cusack) is mostly alone, on a lot of drugs, and under the guidance of a caregiver Dr. Landy (Paul Giamatti). He cannot see his kids, he is under constant watch and other people make all of his main decisions in life.
His life sucks. His life might have always sucked. But there is some hope, in Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a cars saleswoman he meets one day. They start to date and she starts to see how bad his situation is. She wants to get him help because she is starting to like Wilson, who seems to only be a shell of a person at this time.
Oh and I guess some other Beach Boys are in this movie. Played by Kenny Wormald, Graham Rogers, Jake Abel and Brett Davern. They have various speaking parts in this movie and some of them butt heads with Brian when they hear his album concept. And of course, Bill Camp gets to play the dad of the Wilson kids and former manager and not former mean person.
Sometimes you just wake up in the morning and think, “Fuck, even my art is beach themed.”
What is this, the year of the musical biopic? A lot of them tend to be terrible VH1 Behind the Music level films that tell a story we have all heard before with some sweet tunes. But 2015 has given us Love & Mercy, which you know I will call amazing, and Straight Outta Compton, which was definitely amazing. I would like to thank Get On Up from August 2014 for this. It was a good musical biopic, not on the level of the above films, but better than average. It seems like the genre can do no wrong!
Why is this one fantastic? Thankfully it is for multiple reasons. First off, the acting from Dano and Cusack is incredible, yet very very different. Yes, they play the same man about twenty years apart, but they are very different times in his life where he has a very different psyche. In Dano, you can see the artistic genius at show but also see how he starts to crack and fall apart despite the currently good events in his life. For Cusack, he plays a more typical drugged up/mentally ill person trying to make his way in the world. While a good performance, from an acting stand point it didn’t seem to be breaking new ground like it did for Dano.
Again, Cusack was actually really good in this, but to me he was overshadowed by Dano who was really really good in this. And besides, it was a bit hard to imagine Cusack as anyone other than just a bit more out of touch Cusack.
But that is just the first reason! The other reason comes from the plot and accuracy. I, like a lot of people, would love it if the bio films were more all encompassing instead of focusing on a few events. But they picked great (read: sad) times in Wilson’s life to really tell the story of what he has overcome and what he has accomplished. But to tell a coherent parallel story always takes some gusto. This is the first major movie directed by Bill Pohlad, who has produced a lot of great films. It is a very impressive first outing, an incredible work for him and the writers who pieced together this movie.
God Only Knows what we would have done without the Pet Sounds album and eventually this film.
4 out of 4.