Love & Mercy


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Love And Mercy
"Pohland - working with an impressive script by Oren Moverman and Michael A Lerner - manages to orchestrate a musical path between the double storyline that finds unity through the creative process."

The fractured life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson is itself broken into two by producer-turned-director Bill Pohland. One half is inhabited by the pudgy, exuberantly creative, often troubled younger Brian (Paul Dano) as he contemplates Good Vibrations and Pet Sounds. The other, fast-forwards a couple of decades to show us Wilson The Over-medicated (John Cusack), a fragile shadow of that pudgy kid, more or less in thrall to his doctor Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti, a bit broad), who reaches out to a car showroom saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) with a note that simply reads: "Lonely, scared, frightened".

There are dangers in this structure, of two time periods getting into a fight until one segment crushes the other but, joyously, Pohland - working with an impressive script by Oren Moverman and Michael A Lerner - manages to orchestrate a musical path between the double storyline that finds unity through the creative process. It comes as a pleasant surprise that, though the film is on one level about the bad vibrations brought about by Wilson's often precarious mental state - not to mention repeated beatings at the hands of his father that left him deaf in one ear - it is just as much about the good vibrations that led to his extraordinary ability with music and some form of happiness in later life.

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While the half of the film inhabited by Cusack contains the melancholy weight of loss and fear, leavened by the glimmer of hope offered by Ledbetter, the earlier portion acts as a creativity-fuelled counterpoint, with Pohland immersing us in the thought processes and recording studio of Wilson and including plenty of the great man's music. He shows us that music doesn't mean inspiration - it means graft, as Wilson works for hours with musicians to get the performance he wants or brings his dogs into the studio to achieve the right sound. Pohland opens a window to the frustrations felt by Wilson's siblings but also shows the strengths of the younger musician that help reinforce what has been lost after two decades have slipped by. But for all the mechanics, Pohland also finds room to illustrate the ineffable magic of the creative process - particularly in a scene, where Brian bare-foot at a piano in a giant sandpit, hits on a spot of inspiration.

The cruelty of Landy is perhaps the film's one over-played element. Giamatti snarls and snaps his way through the role to such a degree that it seems unlikely more people wouldn't have noticed he was a wrong 'un. Still, Banks's Ledbetter - a mixture of pink fluffy outfits and emotional steel - and Cusack's kinda funny, kinda sad Wilson navigate this section with a delicacy that rests on unspoken emotions. If Dano is on fine form as the younger Wilson, the older version is surely the best performance Cusack has given in years. He may not phyiscally look a lot like the Wilson - as a credits performance by the real musician singing Love & Mercy illustrates - but the mannerisms and manner he brings to the role evoke the (sometime broken, sometime rebuilt) spirit of the man perfectly.

Reviewed on: 10 Jul 2015
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Love & Mercy packshot
A look at two periods of the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson.
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Director: Bill Pohlad

Writer: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner, Brian Wilson

Starring: Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Kenny Wormald, Joanna Going, Dee Wallace, Graham Rogers, Tyson Ritter, Brett Davern, Nikki Wright, Erin Darke, Diana Maria Riva, Max Schneider

Year: 2014

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: US


EIFF 2015

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