It’s a wonder the world even sees Love and Mercy



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?

43 thoughts on “It’s a wonder the world even sees Love and Mercy

  1. I never really paid attention until Pet Sounds, and mostly then because of the influence the album had on the Beatles. My son has helped me to understand the innovation in that album. I look at it, and him, much differently now. ☺ Van


  2. I can’t wait to see this. I love biographies and autobiographies. I don’t have a ‘favorite’ but I love a person’s story. Especially if they are telling it. Not to say I love what their story may hold…but I appreciate that everyone of us has ‘a’ story.


  3. I wasn’t inclined toward the Beach Boys’ music until college. A friend of mine was a huge fan so I became one, sort of. I’m also not a huge movie fan, which leads to this interesting twist, I want to see this movie. The title alone is perfect and the mental health aspect is what will pull Dave and I into this one. I know it will be hard to watch the suffering inflicted upon the young Wilson. Thanks for the helpful review, Mark.


  4. I’m not a particular Beach Boys fan, but it’s hard not to know some of their songs. I didn’t really know anything about Brian Wilson. I think he just performed in Philadelphia.
    I thought the movie looked good, and it got a good review in the Philadelphia paper. Thanks for your review.


  5. The Beach boys was the very first outdoor concert I went to back in 1977. They were on the road with Eddie Money and The Cars. Great show (as much as I remember *puff*). It’s difficult for me to pick a favorite song of theirs, but “Little Surfer Girl” and “Little Deuce Coup” are a couple of them!


  6. I was never a big Beach Boys fan…just never got much into the surf sound. All the same, it’s always fascinating to hear the stories behind the bands. I’m at a loss for biopic movies but there were plenty ‘based on real life’ and music documentaries that have a special place in my heart.


  7. i’m excited to see this, i’ve always been fascinated by his story. like adrian, i love ‘god only knows’ the best, though ‘good vibrations’ always makes me dance )


  8. I always found their songs light and sunny. I Get Around was one of my favorites. I didn’t realize that Wilson was so unstable when he was growing up. A lot of very talented artists from all genres have mental health issues. It seems that brilliance lies right on the cusp of madness. Which begs the question : Is the opposite true as well? Does madness lead to brilliance? – i’m hoping! ha!Great review and fun post Mark. Thank You.


    • We do find out, mostly after the fact, how these folks that gave us so much art or theory or inventions to love or better our lives indeed sat close to that line between brilliance and madness, Paul. I don’t know if the chicken or the egg came first. Thanks for your kind words, my smart friend. πŸ™‚


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