Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Love & Mercy Review

"I want you to leave, but I don't want you to leave me."

During last year's award season, I was the guy who was mostly underwhelmed by biopics. I typically am because they tend to feel so familiar, bowing down to every imaginable trope rather than pushing the envelope and doing something inventive and unique. While most of the world was falling head over heels in love with Benedict Cumberbatch as the brilliant and troubled Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, frankly I was doing my best to keep my eyes open during the second half. A movie that did absolutely nothing to hold my attention and ended up being my least favorite of the eight Best Picture nominees.

While a little more rewarding and interesting than that film, I was in the very good but not great category when it came to The Theory of Everything, a picture that thrived because of the astonishing performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones but fell a bit flat for me on a technical and narrative level. I wanted a lot less of the central love story and a lot more of the remarkable history of Stephen Hawking. 

Brilliant but troubled. Seems like the pretty standard formula for the subject of a biopic, and in 2015 we have another perfect example of this with the story of Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. The film is Love & Mercy, but the good news? There is very little standard or formulaic about this work.

I admit to entering this experience with a bit of a bias simply because of my history of being underwhelmed by these type of films, but Love & Mercy broke through that mold for me and kept me glued to the screen and completely enamored thanks to the tight and focused screenplay from Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner and I love that they, along with director Bill Pohlad, decided rather than following a traditional narrative outline of a point A to point Z life story they would pinpoint two major moments from Wilson's life and focus in on their profound impact. It's a filmmaking choice that pays off in spades.

The young Brian Wilson is played by Paul Dano, an actor who doesn't get nearly the credit nor attention he deserves because his talent is undeniable. We follow this stage of his life as he is working on the musical masterpiece "Pet Sounds" and the lost but eventually found album "Smile", and what is beautifully portrayed here is just how difficult and damaging it can be to struggle with your craft when you feel you are on the cusp of doing something masterful but your peers are standing in the way of its full realization. Wilson is on the verge of creating art but is being asked to stick with what is proven to work, and the process and the conflict is slowly but surely literally testing his sanity. 

The older Brian Wilson is played by John Cusack, a man that is a shell of his younger, ambitious self. He is cared for by his manager Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), but it becomes clear that the treatment plan is actually doing more harm than good. At this point in his life, Wilson isn't merely struggling or damaged, he is broken and the challenge of putting his pieces back together falls on a woman who can't help but be in love with him, warts and all, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). It's hard to believe this is the same man who is iconic for what his genius created. 

It's hard to watch yet it is exciting and compelling on a cinematic level, so it became impossible to take my eyes off of Love & Mercy. It is edited in a way that makes both stages of his life flow together in a seemingly effortless and fluid way, and knowing where Wilson came from and what it would eventually lead to makes each story all the more heartbreaking. 

This is a biopic that absolutely cannot be missed or dismissed, a piece of cinema that vastly transcends the limitations on display during those two acclaimed pictures from a year ago. Love & Mercy is one of the better movies of 2015 thus far.



  1. Check out The Wrecking Crew (on Netflix). It is all about this group of studio musicians who are the ones playing on numerous studio recordings in the 60s(instead of the actual band members). There is a part in there about Brian Wilson and Pet Sounds. Brian Wilson was basically a conductor and it is all studio musicians on the album, not the rest of the Beach Boys.

    1. yeah I actually thought of that doc when watching this film because they do show this being the case during. Conductor is the perfect word to describe the role he seemed to play.