Combining two iconic stars into one songwriting dynamo, the film Love & Mercy delves into the life of The Beach Boys lead singer. The film depicts Paul Dano as the younger vibrant Brian Wilson and John Cusack as the older troubled musician who tries to come to terms with his past of glory, a troubling mental illness and conflicted advice. Whether you are a fan of the famous The Beach Boys or just like good dramatic performances, Love & Mercy should be at the top of your list this weekend.
The film enters the life of Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) at the beginning of his career and shows his rise to stardom co-establishing The Beach Boys and going on to be popular. His phobia’s and drug use start to get the better of him and he stops touring with the group causing some animosity within. Later on Brian (John Cusack) gets introduced to Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) a professed psychological therapist who takes control of Brian’s life, even getting him to sign a paper making Landy his guardian. When he meets Malinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) however, the caring woman starts to intercede in Brian’s treatment.
A battle of wits between Landy and a good measure of fortitude by Malinda begin. Director Bill Pohlad bounces his film from past to future and back again while telling the heartfelt story of Wilson’s life. He uses the fine acting of Dano and Cusack to represent the ages in each period of his life being portrayed. Although the two men look similar to Wilson during each phase giving the movie some realism, it’s their acting that makes Pohlad a winner.
Paul Dano nails the part of the younger Wilson. He embodies Wilson as the brilliant performer, lyricist and composer and gives audiences the lighter side before the psychological change. You can see the determination of Wilson to deliver the right music that will lift the group to stardom. But, he’s not all about the glamor and he shows that side as well. As the group peaks during the mid-1960’s Wilson was already feeling the effects of his mental illness and basically went into hiding. Dano takes the character to the peak of depression then hands off Wilson to John Cusack.
Cusack’s performance tears at the heartstrings as Wilson degrades. Self-imprisoned in his bedroom and foggy from the drug dosage he receives, you can see the devastating end of the downward spiral in view. Cusack encompasses the man’s being to the degree that you can feel him giving up. I can’t remember when he’s given a better show of his acting skills than with this profound statement of human fragility both physical and psychological.
In support two characters bounce off the leads to draw the fine performances. Paul Giamatti turns on his brilliance making Dr. Landy this possessive therapist that keeps Wilson under his control. Not only for the money, but to be able to manipulate the major star of such a prominent group. Anyone that’s a threat to his therapeutic bond with Wilson gets pushed away.
That takes us to Elizabeth Banks playing the part of Malinda Ledbetter who comes into Wilson’s life at the point of his bottoming out. He’s getting suspicious of his caretaker and it’s at that exact point that Malinda finds herself taken by the frail man who was once a superstar. Banks works her character well observing the impropriety of Landy and taking action to help free Wilson from his psychological prison.
Love & Mercy has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic elements, drug content and language.
FINAL ANALYSIS: It’s the drama to beat for Oscar recognition. (A)
Additional Film Information:
Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Directed by: Bill Pohlad
Genre: Drama, Music
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content and language.
Running Time: 2 hrs.
Release Date: June 5, 2015
Distributed by: Roadside Attractions