At SXSW: ‘Love & Mercy’ a beautiful look at life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson
The Beach Boys were worldwide phenomenon, and their music truly defined a generation. The man behind their critical success was a young Brian Wilson (Paul Dano), a man who envisioned the Beach Boys’ songs in his head and created the accompanying music and lyrics for nearly every song. In his later years, Brian (John Cusack) grew more sick, and Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) took over caring for him. However, Dr. Landy’s over-medication and manipulation was discovered by Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), whom Brian met and fell hard for.
Wilson’s unorthodox writing and composing methods created some of the most unique music of that time period. Not only do we get to see how the music affects Wilson, but we also get to see all he went through mentally and how the people around him responded. Better yet, Beach Boys music plays throughout the film and helps set the tone.
Wilson’s mind and body are completely controlled by the music, and his reactions to his auditory hallucinations are remarkable. Dano seems profoundly moved by the music and orchestrating new sounds, only adding to the authenticity that he brings to the role. There’s no doubt that this is one of Dano’s most subtle and best roles.
Cusack plays the older Wilson in the same style as Dano, but Cusack really sells the look — by that, I mean that he looks tired and drugged during most of his performance and the little nuances he bring emphasize the drastic effects of over-medicating. Wilson lets people walk all over him, and all he can do about it is stare off into the distance and speak on behalf of Dr. Landy, with the tenderness he displays toward Melinda hinting at the man he once was.
Giamatti isn’t in the film long enough to completely take over your attention, but his eccentric and frightening presence is more than enough to leave you singing his praises. Dr. Landy manipulates everyone, from the characters in the film to the audience watching it, and his menacing presence is always felt whenever Wilson is onscreen.
On the opposite end is Banks, who sheds her comedic skin and settles into the role of Melissa, whose emotions bleed through the screen. She excels most by adapting to Wilson and the troubles that he’s dealing with.
Director Bill Pohlad has 24 producing credits to his now two directing credits, but that has no bearing on his quality directing. Switching between a home video-styled camera for the recordings of the early Beach Boys albums and a regular one for anytime we’re with Wilson is a choice that works especially well given the context of the footage. The music which Pohlad uses extremely well to follow the characters and their emotions.
‘Love & Mercy’ ultimately succeeds due to the care that went into its creation. Every scene serves a purpose and brings us closer to figuring out who Brian Wilson really is. The split portrayals emphasize important parts of his life. The film is an honest and moving tribute to a great and complex musician.