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Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy

Released 10 July 2015
Director Bill Pohlad
Starring



Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Jack Abel, Dee Wallace, Kenny Wormald, Joanna Going,
Writer(s)

Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Producer(s)

Bill Pohlad, Claire Rudnick Polstein, John Wells
Origin United States
Running Time 121 minutes
Genre Biography, drama, music
Rating 12A
55

The lives of Brian.

Just like Brian Wilson's life itself, Love and Mercy swings between triumph and disaster, intoxicating highs and troubling lows. The narrative is split between two time periods. Paul Dano plays young Brian in the 1960s as his band The Beach Boys hits worldwide success and he begins to shy away from the limelight. Battling the onset of mental illness and the effects of psychedelic drugs, he works on creating the greatest album ever made in recordings that would ultimately become the classic album Pet Sounds. His older incarnation is played by John Cusack. It is the 1980s and Brian is a broken man following a mental breakdown. As he attempts to get back to a normal life with the dubious help of therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), he begins to fall for Melinda (Elizabeth Banks).

The decision to split the part between two actors is an interesting one. Love and Mercy's writer Oren Moverman has used this trope before in his collaboration with Todd Haynes on the collage-like Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There, in which six actors, male and female, portrayed aspects of the musicians personality and history. This time around though, I found Moverman's writing less effective. Rather than emphasising the toll that mental illness took on Wilson, the extreme difference in performance between Dano and Cusack simply makes the latter less convincing. The problem is, Paul Dano's performance is pitch perfect. He not only bears a physical resemblance to the musician, he also beautifully mimics Wilsons speech, movement and facial expressions. For those ‘60s scenes as he lurches around the recording studio in a creative frenzy, Dano is Wilson. John Cusack, despite doing his best, is never anyone other than John Cusack.

Consequently, I was never totally sold on the later years; even a fantastic performance from Elizabeth Banks and atmospheric direction from Bill Pohlad could not compensate for Cusack and a ludicrously wiggy, scenery-chewing Giamatti. If I could have spent the entire running time with Dano in the recording studio I would have been more than happy. As it is though, Love and Mercy is very much a game of two halves – if you're interested in the music of the period, check out the documentary on Wilson's session musicians The Wrecking Crew instead.

- Linda O'Brien