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Anyone who knows me knows my favorite band is The Beach Boys, and my
favorite musician is their leader, Brian Wilson. I first got deep into
their music last November when I heard their album SMiLE, an album
which wasn't officially released until 45 years after its conception
and recording. It was worth the wait, as I consider it the best album
I've ever heard.
I found out that a biopic of Wilson was in the works, and would be
screening at SXSW with Wilson in attendance. I knew I had to go and see
this film. The experience is one that will stick with me for the rest
of my life as one of the most emotionally powerful events I have been a
Love and Mercy is the story of The Beach Boys' founder Brian Wilson.
The film chronicles his rise to fame in the 1960's and the his decline
into mental illness, and his escape from the control of his therapist
in the 1980's.
Paul Dano plays Wilson in the 1960's, and John Cusack plays him in the
1980's. It also stars Elizabeth Banks as Wilson's future wife, Melinda
Ledbetter, and Paul Giamatti as his therapist, Eugene Landy.
Paul Dano exudes the boyish look of young Wilson perfectly. He
relearned how to play piano for the role, and sings much of the music
in the film.
His performance is hard to watch at times because of how depressing it
is seeing him devolve from an energetic, fun young man into a tortured,
drained artist. Dano handles the role with passion and care, and his
performance never feels forced or fake.
When Wilson begins to suffer a panic attack, anyone who's had one will
feel deeply for him. When he starts to have physical symptoms of
depression after years of physical and mental abuse from his father and
disapproval of his musical direction from fellow band mate Mike Love,
Dano portrays the hurt that comes from those events with subtle facial
expressions and natural transition.
John Cusack looks less like Wilson physically, but his performance may
be even more complex. His Wilson has been to the bottom, and he
brilliantly portrays how challenging it is to rebuild your life after
going through mental and physical anguish.
Elizabeth Banks has a great departure from her more well known comedic
film roles, and as Ledbetter, she shows her strength and respect for
the man she loves through actions and subtle expressions instead of
overt, over the top dialog.
Paul Giamatti has the most campy role in the film as Eugene Landy, but
this is unfortunately how Landy was in real life. He was as violent and
controlling over Wilson's life as the movie portrays, so his abusive,
manipulative, angering performance is highly accurate.
One of the best things about Love and Mercy is that it doesn't
exaggerate or make up events to make the film more interesting. The
filmmakers trust the strength of its source material is interesting
enough to make for a great story.
The storytelling structure of the movie is interesting and risky. The
film jumps from the 60's to the 80's without warning, and it works. The
slightly askew technique allows the audience to experience the downfall
and uprising of Wilson's life simultaneously, and allows the movie to
end on a happy note.
One complaint people have is that the film skips over the 1970's,
Wilson's most tumultuous period in which he weighed 300 pounds and
spent the majority of three years in bed, crippled by depression and
drug addiction. However, this allows the audience to examine the
reasons for his downfall and redemption instead of indulging in the
horrible escapism Wilson turned to.
Beach Boys fans will appreciate the movie more than the average
film-goer. Mike Love in hats, dancing, and mentioning "the formula"?
Check. Drug tent and piano in the sandbox in Wilson's living room?
Check. The infamous "Fire" session? Check. Everything is on point, from
the scarily accurate wardrobe down to recreating the "Sloop John B."
and "Surf's Up" promo videos shot for shot. It's these moments that
show the film was made by fans with an attention for detail.
Almost every song on the album Pet Sounds is featured in the film
somewhere. Seeing Wilson's unorthodox recording techniques is such a
pleasure for music nerds.
Cinematographer Robert Yeoman, best known for creating the look of Wes
Anderson's films, blends stylistic tone with realistic camera work,
creating a sense of false nostalgia that is surreal yet inviting and
Composer Atticus Ross works wonders with the score, using a great
wealth of Wilson's music in different ways and choosing songs that fit
with the emotional tone of the scene brilliantly. Hearing the
instrumental version of "Don't Talk" play as Wilson takes LSD for the
first time is haunting. Witnessing the song "Til' I Die" play over a
surreal, Kubrickian scene in which Wilson has an epiphany made me cry
because of the powerful combination of imagery and music.
The film is being released on June 5, to capitalize on The Beach Boys
music being a staple of the summer, but it feels more like a
Thanksgiving release to me. The cinematography, acting, script, and
score are all Oscar worthy in my opinion, but the film may get lost in
the race to other contenders, which is a shame.
Love and Mercy is an awesome, unorthodox biopic that takes risks with
form and narrative that has strong performances, script,
cinematography, and of course, an amazing soundtrack. It will expose
young people to the brilliance of Wilson's music and give older fans an
insight into why Wilson is the poster boy for using creativity as an
escape and an outlet from the pain of life and mental illness.
And seriously, listen to the album SMiLE.
Tags for Love & Mercy Full Movie
, John Cusack
, Paul Dano
, Paul Giamatti
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