Directed by: Bill Pohlad.
Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti.
NOTICE* I try to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible but there may be some references to plot points that may be considered mild spoilers, reader discretion is advised.
Plot: In the 1960’s, The Beach Boys ride a wave of success much in part to their songwriter, Brian Wilson. Wilson however wants to retreat from touring life to work on creating what will become his legacy, ‘Pet Sounds’, but the rigours of fame begin to take their toll on his mind. In the 1980’s, Wilson is a broken down shell, pharmaceutically and abusively controlled by his Psychiatrist Dr Landy.
I love the Beach Boys, who with a working set of ears doesn’t? So the prospect of a film about Brian Wilson I found immediately appealing. What I found even more so was discovering he is played by two magnificent actors, Paul Dano as young Brian and John Cusack as middle-aged Brian, the film flitting back and forth between the 1960’s & 1980’s to show Wilson at two distinct points in his life, at the height of the Beach Boys success and the onset of his mental health issues and also during his 80’s wildernesses years under the thrall of his abusive psychiatrist.
The performances in this film are fantastic. Hats have to come off to Paul Dano for his spot on turn as Wilson. It goes further than just growing out his hair and putting a little weight on, it’s the inflection in his voice, the way in which he carries himself, the fact he learnt how to actually sing and play the piano. All of these touches make for a quite frankly remarkable, nuanced performance.
The same can be said of John Cusacks turn as an older, more broken down Wilson. He lends such a sense of fragility and unease to his sympathetic performance that your heart goes out to him, particularly one scene where he is verbally bashed by his volatile psychiatrist for sharing a hamburger, he lives in constant fear of reprisal from this monster who keeps him pharmaceutically subdued.
Paul Giamatti plays the role of Dr Landy with such ferocity at times, it takes even the viewer by surprise the first time it happens. This is a very troubled and controlling individual and Giamatti absolutely nails those aspects of this monsterous person.
Elizabeth Banks delivers a solid performance as Wilsons friend (and later wife) Melinda. Her approach to her character handling the truth of Wilsons condition and his handling by his Psychiatrist is measured and very natural, it is a solid support performance.
This is a very well put together snapshot of an artist. The juxtaposition of 2 distinct times in his life and the back and forth between those periods makes for an interesting and different approach to the standard biopic formula, it works incredibly well. Of course the source material certainly helped, Wilson has lead an absolutely fascinating and incredible life, to see this translated into such a well presented, original film is an absolute joy to a fan, but an equally engaging cinematic experience to a newcomer also.
Love & Mercy is currently available to view on Sky Cinema.