The Beach Boys are such a part of Americana that for anyone born post Baby Boom it is easy to overlook the innovations the group added to music. Those innovations, along with the drama behind the scenes, were the focus of Love and Mercy.
On the negative side, I found the movie too long and a bit awkward in places as if the editing didn’t quite match up to the script. A quick rundown of the IMDB cast list shows that certain characters were cut out completely (Dee Wallace for instance) which may have added depth. The film would have benefitted by less scenes involving band drugging and partying and more about Brian Wilson’s complicated relationships with those close to him.
The film’s has two timelines, the mid-1960’s and the early eighties. John Cusack plays the older version of Wilson who is introduced to the audience while in a showroom browsing for a car. He has a strange and endearing encounter with car saleslady Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) in which he asks her out for a date as well and leaves her a note asking for help. Afterwards he is escorted from the dealership by a bodyguard and his therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) all of which appears circumspect.
Paul Dano is sixties era Wilson first seen having panic attacks while touring with the band. The Beach Boys agree to replace him on the road so he can write music for their next album. Since the band fired the Wilson brothers’ dad as manager, Brian has a more complicated relationship than ever with his dominating father who proves later to have poor business acumen to back up his harsh words (think band royalties). With his old man undermining him, the band is second guessing his producing decisions, and experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs, Wilson is set up for a downward spiral. The only people supporting his creative decisions seem to be the backup musicians that are awed by his talent.
While we see Dano’s Wilson exercise his musical genius producing the album Pet Sounds we see Cusack’s Wilson trapped in his own home while under the care of Dr. Landy. The doctor controlled every aspect of Wilson’s life and eventually lost his license due to his shady therapeutic techniques. It is obvious that Wilson wants to break free from the control but he is also psychologically dependent on Landy who is forcing Wilson to create more music so that he can share in the producing credits. Wilson starts a romance with Ledbetter who has to initially walk a fine line between appeasing Landy with her presence and offering Wilson support to become his own man.
The acting is good, especially Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti, and the story is interesting. If anything the audience walks out with a greater appreciation of the Beach Boy harmonies. For the most part Love and Mercy is out of the theaters but it should play well on the smaller screen.