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. . Directing: B Acting: B+ Writing: B Cinematography: B+ Editing: B… - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

I'm a little young for the Beach Boys; I only have a cursory familiarity with them -- their most famous singles, "California Girls" (which I actually heard for the first time sung by David Lee Roth); "Surfing USA"; "Good Vibrations." I've heard the album titles Pet Sounds and Smile, both of which figure significantly in the story presented in the film Love & Mercy, but never in my life have I heard a single Beach Boys (or Brian Wilson) album. As such, one could say the test I represent with this film is whether it's worth watching for those not excessively familiar with The Beach Boys.

The answer is yes. To the credit of both director Bill Pohlad, this movie makes me acutely interested in hearing these albums -- this film has an objectively great soundtrack. Furthermore, stars Paul Dano (as the younger Brian) and John Cusack (as the older Brian) inspire a desire to learn more about the mentally ill but brilliantly talented real-life man they play.

Love & Mercy does fall victim to the same flaws of most biopics -- namely, that it tries to cram far too many years into the space of only two hours. This means later-life girlfriend Melinda (a wonderful Elizabeth Banks) gets plenty of focus, yet Brian's first wife, who one would think would represent a hugely significant aspect of his life, has a presence that's fleeting at best.

The story here alternates between older Brian dealing with a manipulative doctor (Paul Giamatti, here a nuanced villain) who has misdiagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia, and the younger Brian dealing with an overbearing father (Bill Camp) and a band of brothers losing patience with his increasingly inaccessible lyrics. It seems that, although Pet Sounds was a critical smash from the beginning, it was not at all a commercial success in its time.

It should be noted that the scenes with Paul Dano as the younger Brian crackle with far more immediacy than those with John Cusack as the older Brian. People don't talk about about what a talent Paul Dano is. If there's any one reason to see this movie, he is it. That's no poor reflection on Cusack, who also excels as the older Brian. It's just that the older Brian, evidently misdiagnosed and over-medicated on the wrong pills, by definition has less vitality to him, and that unfortunately makes him slightly less interesting. Luckily these scenes have Elizabeth Banks, and even Paul Giamatti, to buoy them.

There's no question that, complex as the story presented here is, the movie vastly oversimplifies the truth of Brian Wilson's life. How horrible was his doctor really? Was Melinda really such a savior for him? Perhaps: she's married to Brian to this day and has been since 1995. Even with the comparative focus that narrows the focus to just a few years in both the earlier and later eras of Brian's life, Pohlad still can't offer a suitably balanced picture of this clearly complicated man. But, such is the nature of biopics, or at least those that attempt to cover multiple decades of a person's life.

That said, Love & Mercy is an undeniably engaging film, especially once the music kicks in. It takes a little while for this to happen, with somewhat stilted dialogue in the opening scenes. But in the end, this is a movie with rewards that more than make up for its flaws.

Paul Dano embodies the young Brian Wilson in LOVE & MERCY.

Overall: B+
1 comment or Leave a comment
tommy50702 From: tommy50702 Date: July 29th, 2015 02:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
The Beach Boys are my favorite, Brian Wilson is a genius. Will watch it.
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