loveandmercyI will admit right up front that I was never a fan of The Beach Boys. So I put this film off and that was a mistake. While Brian Wilson may be the central character, Love & Mercy is much more than the story of a famous boy band. It’s a sweet redemptive love story wrapped in a harrowing tale of mental illness. It stars John Cusack and Paul Dano as Wilson at different key periods in his life. And both of them deserve high praise for their portrayals of the creative genius with enormous problems. Not being a fan of the music, I was surprised by how beautifully it was put together and ultimately how much I liked this film.

The movie cuts back and forth between the 60s heyday of the Beach Boys when Brian is at the height of his creativity but already dealing with demons (both real and imagined) and the much diminished Brian of the 80s who is under the care of the horrifyingly dictatorial psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) who is over-medicating him, and “taking advantage” would be a gross understatement of the dynamic between them. Fortunately, Brian decides to buy a Cadillac and meets saleswomen Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) who sees past his illness and saves him from Landy and a loveless life.

Some of my favorite scenes are when 60s Brian is composing and working with studio musicians to put together the tracks for the album Pet Sounds. They’re really wonderful moments of the creative process unfolding. Love & Mercy has a strong script and even stronger casting. Paul Giamatti seems like he’s overdoing it, but apparently he is spot on with his portrayal of the horrid doctor. And Elizabeth Banks is wonderful as the woman who brings him back from the edge. I’d recommend this one to broad audiences. Especially if you are a Beach Boys fan.

(And don’t turn it off when the screen goes to black. There is more.)

One thought on “Love & Mercy”
  1. I loved this movie. I’ve always liked the music but assumed it was frivolous and shallow. Silly me.
    Cusack and Dano are stellar, and Banks far exceeded my expectations. Giamatti is perhaps over the top, but that’s what he does best.
    The treatment of Wilson’s pathology/demons is sensitive and heartbreaking. Kudos to all.
    Good advice about the black screen. I was glad I stayed.

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