Paul Dano and John Cusack share the heavy lifting in Love And Mercy, portraying a young and middle aged Brian Wilson in a film that centres around concepts of artistic genius and control. A warts and all recounting of a famously troubled human being, Love And Mercy is really two stories connected by a theme and life, but is half amazing and half harrowing.
Love And Mercy jumps between two major events in wB43rian Wilson’s life. In the 1960’s we see Wilson as he reaches the highs oVBww Revy5fxWf The Beach Boys through the recording of their biggest hits and the landmark genius that is Pet Sounds. Counterpointing this is the 1980’s where a heavily medicated and controlled WIlson is fenced in by Dr Eugene Levy (Paul Giamatti) as a potential suitor, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) looks to bring Wilson back to the real world. As the film progresses we see the full range of Wilson’s genius in his early life as well as the demons and pressures that would lead to his decline leading to the 1980’s.
Showing both sides of Wilsons life gives the film an overall melancholy feel as we know what is to become of the young prodigy in his later life. As the film progresses we are given a clear picture of how Wilson was able to become what he became, rather than a linear narrative, the parallels allow us to discover similar circumstances in Wilson’s life despite the years in between. For anybody familiar with Wilson’s story, there is much to be optimistic about in the biopic, but it is really Paul Dano that is the leading light here. Dano is just electric, whether projecting creativity or plunging into anxiety and delusion, it is impossible not to watch and understand Wilson through Dano. If the film was exclusively featuring Dano, it would be a more engaging watch.
Wilson has had a hard later life, there is no denying that. John Cusack it seems is also having a hard time getting around the roles he is taking on. An actor who used to illuminate the screen in films like High Fidelity and Say Anything, Cusack is an absolute bore here. Perhaps engulfed by the concept that Wilson was almost locked into his own mind, Cusack seems to exhibit no emotion. I feel sorry for Banks as she tries to develop a relationship with a brick wall. I don’t understand how Ledbetter and Wilson ended up married based upon what is on display here.
In the recording of Pet Sounds, Wilson as played by Dano assembles a crew of session musicians while tinkering around recording all sorts of sounds for what we all know now as a masterpiece. As we see the recreation of songs we now take for granted, Wilson floats between being a mad genius and an audio guru. Dano’s eyes twinkle as he plays with jumping dogs and plucks piano wires covered with bobby pins. This is pure joy in filmmaking, a gorgeous score combined with lush slow cut visuals and an emotional release from the tension of the rest of the film.
When a film is two stories in one, one of the halves will often be weaker. In Love And Mercy, there is a clear winner but it leaves the poor half to drag the entire film down. There are moments of brilliance and the film is decent representation of Wilson’s life, but it could be better and it may be a while before I want to sit down to take another look at it.