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Wick's Review

Created Jul 01, 2015 08:54PM PST • Edited Dec 13, 2015 08:37AM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Perfect 5.0

    Love & Mercy is as much the story of one man’s mental illness as the story of his treasured musical genius. The man is Brian Wilson, the illness is schizoaffective disorder and the music is that of The Beach Boys. The movie is perfect, as inspired as a uniquely inspired Beach Boys song. Good, Good, Good Vibrations!

    The Beach Boys weren’t my thing, notwithstanding always cranking up Sloop John B and being amazed by Good Vibrations. But I’ve long been fascinated by Brian Wilson’s tortured genius and troubled life, so Love & Mercy works for me as a pop culture history as well as an insightful tale of mental illness and recovery.

    The movie interweaves Wilson’s 60s salad days with the period in the 80s when he was under the sway of an unscrupulous psychotherapist, plus flashbacks to his troubled boyhood. Two actors inhabit him: Paul Dano as the Brian who conceives of I Get Around and Wouldn’t It Be Nice, but is losing his grip on reality; John Cusack as the middle-aged Brian, damaged but still with the spark of genius and the desire to love.

    Cusack is joined by the estimable Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti, each of whom has never been better. Together they plumb the depths of middle-aged Brian’s troubled but still hopeful soul, and do so in quite affecting fashion. Love & Mercy is a Wilson song from that period. This brilliant biopic treats him with richly deserved love & mercy, and provides the rest of us with a window into his unique genius and journey.

  3. Really Great 4.5

    Paul Dano doesn’t look like John Cusack, and neither looks especially like Brian Wilson. It doesn’t matter, as the actors perceptively inhabit Wilson at two key junctures in his life. These are brilliant performances, often internal, that reveal the deep wellsprings of genius, illness and tenderness in Wilson’s head.

    Dano opens the movie apparently talking to himself, yet is shown to be explaining a song to others. It’s the first of many brilliant moments in Love & Mercy, many involving Dano’s twenty-something Brian. Dano also gets the privilege of playing Wilson when he’s working in the studio with topflight musicians who help him propel his nonpareil music forward. These are joyous moments of genius in action.

    Cusack gives the best performance of his career as forty-something Brian, a broken man badly served by the infamous Dr. Eugene Landy. But it’s Cusack’s scenes with the woman who would become his wife that are the most affecting. They’re like characters from a grown-up Beach Boys song, awkwardly finding love.

    Elizabeth Banks is lovely and affecting as that woman, Melinda Ledbetter, now Wilson’s wife of twenty years. Banks marries glamour with common-sense as well as any actress working on screen today.

    Paul Giamatti is frighteningly domineering as Dr. Eugene Landy, the psychotherapist who saved Wilson from addiction, but then proceeded to milk him dry. Giamatti deftly displays a wicked intelligence, along with a volcanic temper that intimidated those who crossed him. This is an Oscar worthy performance.

    The Beach Boys

    • Jake Abel plays Mike Love as practical and direct.
    • Brett Davern & Kenny Wormald play Carl & Dennis Wilson as uncomplicated SoCal guys who didn’t know what to do with their brilliant and troubled brother.
    • Graham Rogers as Al Jardine
    • Bill Camp delivers an intensely sensitive performance as the execrable Murry Wilson, father to Brian, Carl & Dennis. Camp is apparently known for several movies I’ve extolled, though this is the first time he’s jumped off screen to my notice. Well, he’s noticed now.
    • Erin Darke as Marilyn Wilson, Brian’s first wife and the mother of Carnie & Wendy, who would go on to be two-thirds of Wilson Phillips.
    • Johnny Sneed as Hal Blaine, session drummer extraordinaire.
    • Max Schneider as Van Dyke Parks
    • Jonathan Slavin as Phil Spector
  4. Male Stars Perfect 5.0
  5. Female Stars Perfect 5.0
  6. Female Costars Very Good 3.5
  7. Male Costars Really Great 4.5
  8. Perfect 5.0

    Love & Mercy is the best film of the year to date, an unexpected development given that it is directed by a producer and scripted by unheralded writers. First it deconstructs Brian Wilson’s life and then brilliantly harmonizes the strands back together, not unlike a consummately crafted Beach Boys song.

    One scene stands out for insight and LOL humor: Brian Wilson secretly invites Melinda Ledbetter to his Malibu beach house, asks her to sit down at his Steinway and proceeds to play a gorgeous piece of piano music for her. Taken aback by how sensitive and complex it is, she asks when he wrote it.

    Right now, when I saw you at the front door.

    She doesn’t believe him at first, only then gaining a full appreciation for the depth of his spirit and genius.

  9. Direction Perfect 5.0
  10. Play Perfect 5.0
  11. Music Perfect 5.0
  12. Visuals Perfect 5.0
  13. Content
  14. Risqué 1.9

    Cautionary note: The scenes of Brian Wilson being mistreated by his psychotherapist are hard to watch.

  15. Sex Titillating 1.6
  16. Violence Gentle 1.5
  17. Rudeness Salty 2.5
  18. Glib 1.2

    Love & Mercy apparently takes minimal creative license with the actual events of Brian Wilson’s life.

    Of more interest is the underlying reality into which the movie provides a lens.

    • Abusive Father: Murry Wilson is depicted as a hard-drinking, self-absorbed mediocrity who couldn’t abide a son who outdid him. And yet he was also Brian’s musical teacher and the one who could most relate to Brian’s work, even if he couldn’t admit it and needed to denigrate it. Complicated, but well played.
    • Mental Illness: Brian Wilson suffers from schizoaffective disorder that includes auditory hallucinations, amongst other issues. Unfortunately, Dr. Eugene Landy over-diagnosed and over-medicated him in the period shown in the movie, all of which is fascinating for those of us with an interest in mental illness.
    • 60s Music Scene in L.A.: Wilson is shown working extensively with drummer Hal Blaine and others from the legendary session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. Those guys could play.
    • Brian Wilson’s Creative Genius: He was clearly the happiest when working in the studio with A Players like the Wrecking Crew. It’s a joy to watch.
  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.5
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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