Brian Wilson led one messed up life.
Love and Mercy made me cringe at the thought of what the genius behind the music of the Beach Boys had to go through to get what was inside his head inside of mine.
Written by Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner and directed by
Bill Pohlad, this biopic is a two-hour trip that feels pulls no punches about the craziness that surrounded the young Wilson and poured forth from his mind and actions in the decades thereafter.
The credits at the start, when we see Paul Dano singing as the young Brian, admit that this story is credited to Brian’s telling of his story. And so we expect some sympathy for what he went through in the 60s and 70s and 80s and …
Which makes what we get here even more refreshing. As beautiful as this movie is, and a how can scenes in California beaches and mansions and sound studios not be when handles with care, the ugliness of Wilson’s life is not spared. The Wilson brothers’ father Murry, played with equal parts mean and creep by Bill Camp, was a bastard, an emotional and physical abuser of his three musically talented sons. Brian was a little off from the start, with panic attacks on a plane, then more and more and more. He used and abused drugs. He used and abused the people who loved him most.
Then he walked into a Cadillac dealership and met Melanie Ledbetter.
Now Wilson is being played by John Cusack, and he amazingly but subtlely portrays the eccentricities — crazies if you dare admit it — full bore. The saleswoman played with great compassion by Elizabeth Banks doesn’t even know who Wilson is, but gets pulled in my his aura and silent plea for help at the start.
From there the film jumps back and forth between young and old Brian, showing his genius in full bloom with the magical making of the masterful album Pet Sounds in the studio complete with all the quirks of genius that snowball toward madness. The other Beach Boys, particularly cousin Mike Love played with awesome angst by Jake Abel, get fed up with his straying from their harmonious formula of success, and when the album tanks in sales, well there’s a cue for Brian’s increased depression.
The 1980s Brian, meanwhile, has Melanie in his life, but she’s noticed the ill effects of the care of Dr. Eugene Landy, played with manic and caustic perfection by Paul Giamatti. Landy has not only assigned himself as guardian of Wilson’s body and mind, he’s also wrangled legal stewardship.
Oh, what a tangled web Brian Wilson is caught in, both versions.
It’s a couple of messes so awkward I squirmed in my seat in the full Bay Cinema in Dennis, Mass. If I didn’t know the ending I’d figure this guy would be dead, buried and memorialized. Twice.
The clips of a happy Brian Wilson now, with a big backing band singing new song Love and Mercy stuck into a corner of the closing credits is quite satisfying indeed.
Are you a Beach Boys fan, and if so, why? What’s your favorite Beach Boys song, and why? What’s your favorite biography movie, and why?