Love & Mercy: Film Review

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I knew nothing about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys except their music so I was going into this with a completely open mind – I had no idea what they were supposed to look like, so that did not cloud my judgment on Paul Dano or John Cusack‘s portrayal of the troubled frontman, so my opinion is based simply on the film and the research I felt compelled to do afterwards.

They both play Wilson at different times in his life and the film jumps between the two. Dano’s portrayal takes place in the 1960s with the making of Pet Sounds, which is considered the group’s best album to date. It also marks the beginning of his drug-taking and deteriorating mental state. Cusack plays the older Wilson in the 1980s. He has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and is being looked after by Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), and his girlfriend Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) believes Landy is effectively killing him.

I love the Beach Boys music and it takes centre stage here. The film opens on a recap of some of their earlier hits such as Surfin’ and I Get Around, and the performances are shot on an old school camera, and they really looked like an actual band. I would be intrigued to know how much was Dano’s singing and what was just lip synched but it sounded very realistic. Dano’s recording sessions are mostly focussed on God Only Knows and Good Vibrations, which were stuck in my head for days afterwards. Dano learned to play the piano for the role and it felt like he WAS Wilson. Also, the recording sessions for Pet Sounds felt so real with Dano at the helm, showing us Wilson’s unconventional songwriting and arranging style.

I would have preferred if Dano played both Wilsons because Cusack was not as convincing. Cusack’s performance was still the best he has done in ages, but I didn’t buy into them being the same person. It is hard because Cusack’s time period had a much more interesting story, yet I found Dano a more compelling watch. It would have been great to see Dano take on the Landy stuff as well.

The biopic touched on Wilson’s drug taking, but it never really showed how bad it got. With Dano, you only see him on the precipice of losing it all before we go to Cusack. I thought Giamatti was brilliant as the over controlling Landy and would have liked to see more.

In all, it is fascinating story and I loved the music, I’m just not sure about the time-jumping narrative especially because Cusack was not as convincing as Wilson. It is an unconventional format for a biopic and I applaud the director Bill Pohlad for trying something different but I’m not sure it worked. Dano’s performance is incredible though and I would love for him to receive awards recognition.

Released in selected cinemas on 10th July

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