A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
Director: Bill Pohlad
Producer: Bill Pohlad, Claire Rudnick Polstein, John Wells
Written by: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
Growing up with the infectious harmonies of The Beach Boys never failed to brighten my day. Long and tiresome car rides were instantly injected with boisterous rhythms and the catchiest of melodies, making for some very fond memories.
It seems that in the creative world of music, there is another world that doesn’t shine through; a dark, pressured and grim existence behind the curtains. Producer Bill Pohlad’s directorial debut Love & Mercy explores the latter, revealing the dire and tragic life of a musical genius; the life of Brian.
Brian Wilson; the man responsible for some of the best songs ever written and the tunes for irritating Cadbury and Good Guys commercials, lead a life that was nothing short of incredible, but not for the reasons you’d think.
Set in both the 1960’s and 1980’s, Love & Mercy delves into the creative processes, immense pressures and endless troubles faced by Wilson whilst working on the iconic Pet Sounds, as well as the unstable and confused man Wilson went on to become in his later life.
Under the control of the calculated and possessive Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), Wilson’s later life was one full of torment and inescapable psychological terror. The opening scene of the film shows how inside a showroom Cadillac, Wilson’s world would change forever after Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) caught his eye, sparking a sweet, but important love story.
Countless films, particularly biopics that focus on psychologically troubled individuals regarded as iconic intellects in the industry are approached with a romanticised lens, creating something beautiful and sappily touching as a result.
What Love & Mercy is able to express is that the relationship between mental illness and creative genius does not result in complete success and happiness. The effervescence of Wilson’s music was no representation of his state of health and wellbeing, in fact, the film exhibits them as polar opposites; a quality that is heavily overlooked in many examples of the genre.
Not only does Love & Mercy cut back and forth between the two significant eras of Wilson’s life, the films jumps between film stock footage, modern techniques and surrealist montage sequences, offering numerous stylistic approaches and atmospheres which represent the various stages of Wilson’s career.
There is a recurring subtle, grainy hand-held technique that gives the film a rich documentary-feel, adding so much to the experience of the story; it’s almost a voyeuristic viewpoint, making for some moments of discomfort and intrusion in Wilson’s most pressured moments in the studio.
Brian Wilson appears to be the role Paul Dano was born to play. Not only are there similarities in general appearance, Dano is able to transform himself into the Beach Boys’ leader effortlessly, producing a side of his acting spectrum we’ve grown to know and love over the years.
On the other hand, learning that John Cusack would embody the older Wilson brought some scepticism and doubt. It’s so refreshing however, to see a solid return to form for Cusack as he gives one of his best performances in years.
The two (who never interacted during the filming process in order to capture two varying, unique versions of Wilson) had to show the enormity of Wilson’s life, career and mental demons over more than two decades; an incredible task.
As soon as we’re introduced to Cusack’s Wilson, he is unstable and frightened, out of sync and broken inside. His performance is so subtle and nuanced, you simply don’t see John Cusack acting in a film, which is the highest praise I can give any actor.
Elizabeth Banks has never been better, whilst Paul Giamatti rights his wrongs from The Amazing Spiderman 2. Both provide excellent supporting performances as the primary influences on Wilson in his later life, engaging in a tug-of-war with the intent of ‘saving’ him.
Giamatti has found his strongpoint when it comes to character profiles, and there are few that worked better for him than Dr. Eugene Landy.
Melinda Ledbetter is an amazing woman with a immense amount of courage, and through Elizabeth Banks’ performance, we’re able to see just how hard she had to fight for Brian during his greatest time of need.
Love & Mercy is one the year’s most surprising pictures. The raw insight into Brian Wilson’s tragic life will result in you never hearing The Beach Boys quite the same way.
Through solid, confident directing and stellar performances across the board, Love & Mercy captures a realistic essence of an individual, his exterior influences and his internal personal struggles over time, concluding optimistically but avoiding convention in the process.
It’s important to take a lot from Wilson’s story, as it stands for so much when looking at themes such as mental health, the creative industry, love, protection, guidance, success and happiness.
What would have become of Brian Wilson if it weren’t for people like Melinda Ledbetter? God only knows…