Love & Mercy (2014)

(On Cable TV, April 2016) By now, fictionalized music biographies have settled into such a rote pattern that any deviation from the form is liable to make the result look better. Love & Mercy is certainly part of those exceptions to the norm: Chronicling the life of Beach Boys member Brian Wilson, it chooses to focus on Wilson’s life at two different eras, and to have Wilson played by two different actors in those eras. Sixties Wilson is played by Paul Dano, and chronicles not only how Wilson came up with the iconic Pet Sounds record, but also how, at the same time, his life was spinning out of control due to undiagnosed mental health issues. Twenty years later, John Cusack plays Wilson as a recluse, manipulated into social exile by a misguided (possibly malicious) psychiatrist and gradually finding a path back to good mental health via the intervention of a good woman. Both eras are shot differently, 16 mm cameras helping set the sixties era, while the eighties are portrayed as considerably bluer and flatter. The result is unequal, but there are a few good moments: Dano’s portrayal of Wilson is mesmerizing, never more so than when the movie dares to re-create his production of “Pet Sounds” in the recording studio. Meanwhile, Cusack gets to step away from his screen persona of late. The file goes back and forth between its two eras, and in doing so creates an interesting portrait of a tortured musical genius who ends up earning his way back to inner peace. Director Bill Pohlad skilfully balances a number of daring elements in Love & Mercy, and the result is more interesting than the usual musical docu-fiction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *