Sympathetic View in ‘Love and Mercy’
If you were a Beach Boy’s fan, you would love the film “Love and Mercy” about the mercurial, multi-talented genius, Beach Boy, Brian Wilson. The biographical film, produced by Wilson, shows his rise to fame and his decline through drugs and mental illness. The film shows how a young, mercurial Wilson, so well portrayed by Paul Dano is driven to succeed with his albums as he struggles with mental and emotional illness in the 60’s. By the 80’s, Wilson is a crazed shadow of his younger self, under 24 hour watch by the scheming, controlling therapist, Dr. Martin Landy, (Paul Giamatti.) John Cusack plays the older Wilson.
While Cusack got the colors right for the addled, crazed, drugged Wilson, he did not fit the part. Young Wilson as played by Dano had light brown hair. Wilson as played by Cusack had dark brown or black hair. This was a detail that was bothersome. The continuity was broken. Had the director, Bill Pohlad darkened Dano’s hair or lightened Cusack’s, the transition would have been believable. Was there no one who watched the dailies who said, “The emperor has no clothes?”
Dano’s acting was utterly convincing. We saw how his illness shaped his brilliant talent and also how it drove him into the depths of despair and not being able to function. Cuscack also delivered a fine performance. And, the writing gave a sympathetic look into the life of Brian Wilson. This is one man who never should have played with mind altering drugs. He goes from being on top of the recording world to the bottom as his marriage, his life crumbles. There was a period where Wilson literally did not get out of bed and gained a lot of weight.
He was put under the control of one Dr. Eugene Landy. And, perhaps the sense of power also destroyed Landy. Giamatti did a very good job as Land. Enter a ray of sunshine, as Wilson goes to buy a new car. He meets Melinda, (Elizabeth Banks) who sold him the new car and gave him a new lease on life. Melinda becomes his friend and his savior as she struggles to wrest control away from the domineering Landy. Who is the crazy one? Wilson, though overly drugged so Landy can control him, is painted as a shy, nice, naive guy. There were lovely scenes between him (Cusack) and Melinda (Banks). The naiveté was refreshing. Melinda enlists the help of a housekeeper and also Carl Wilson to free Wilson from Landy’s evil grasp.
I was rooting for Wilson and hoping he would regain his sanity. The juxtaposition of the drug scenes, the young Wilson and the “now” Wilson was fascinating and seamlessly done. The scenes were poetic and pulled the audience in. The music transported us into the past. The familiar Beach Boy hits played throughout the film and added to both the credibility and to the heart of the film. The audience wanted a happy ending and we applauded as the credits rose.
Brian Wilson married Melinda and they have five adopted children. He is alive and well, as well as he can be and is musically productive. Landy lost his license to practice medicine and also lost control of Brian Wilson and his music.
I recommend this film, especially for those who were and are Beach Boy’s fans. The music transported me. I had forgotten just how great and timeless the Beach Boys hits were.
Check theater listings for “Love and Mercy” or get the DVD.