Love & Mercy, a film from 2015, is the story of Brian Wilson, the gifted musician behind much of the Beach Boys best music. I was curious to know his story, having heard that a struggle with mental illness had impacted his life significantly. I had also heard that his father was severely abusive to his sons, and this fact was in the film as well, heart wrenching to watch. It is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content, and language.
The story of Brian’s life is shown by transporting us back and forth between two significant periods in his life, during the 1980’s, and in the 1960’s. Two actors portray Brian in the film to show these time periods. John Cusack is Brian in the 80’s, and Paul Dano the younger Brian in the 60’s. Paul Dano has been featured in such films as Little Miss Sunshine, and There Will Be Blood, and he does a fantastic job; even his singing sounds like Brian’s and you forget it’s not really Brian. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in this film.
John Cusack (if you don’t know who he is, you must not watch many movies) is convincing as the older Brian who struggles with the voices in his head, the label of paranoid schizophrenic, and the loneliness that he lives with daily. Paul Giamatti (Sideways) plays the psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy, who effectively isolated Brian from his family and any normalcy in his life, and he is one scary dude.
Brian meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) in a car dealership, and begins to have a relationship with her. This must have been destiny as Dr. Landy controls every aspect of his life, and interferes with their developing relationship. I felt that Melinda must have been one strong woman to see beneath the struggles of Brian to connect with the sensitive soul within, while enduring the constant intrusions of Dr. Landy.
I also really enjoyed the lengthy scenes of Brian with his studio musicians creating such innovative songs as Good Vibrations, probably their most well known hit. I was intrigued by the perseverance it took to record, the musicians never depicted as losing their cool with an eccentric and perfectionist Brian.
The features on the DVD offered behind the scenes looks into making the film and were quite fascinating. I enjoy seeing how a movie is made, and it shed even more light onto Brian and Melinda as they appeared in the interviews in the features section also.
I was reminded hearing these Beach Boys songs of how romantic many of them were. The way we get to see the songs take form serves to emphasize the lyrics. Brian is a very sensitive soul, and it really made me appreciate even more the magic of connection between lovers that he sung about.
I highly recommend this film. It’s a compassionate look at a genius with a touch of madness that gave us some deeply beautiful music.