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DVD: Love & Mercy | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Love & Mercy

DVD: Love & Mercy

Classy biopic of the Beach Boys' troubled visionary Brian Wilson

Smile: Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) on a good daySony

Most three-act movies include a scene in which the protagonist and his or her intimates are at their happiest – a state of affairs that can’t last. Oren Moverman and Michael A Lerner, the writers of the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy, lit upon an organic – in fact, magical – way of encapsulating the effect of Wilson’s genius on the other Beach Boys.

It comes when the 24-year-old Wilson (Paul Dano) steers his bandmates into finding the exact blend of harmonies needed for “Good Vibrations” one day in 1966. Even the song’s lyricist Mike Love (Jake Abel), a surf pop conservative who’d whinged about cousin Brian’s elaborate production of the “Pet Sounds” LP, rises to the occasion. The discovery of a unique sound is rare in music movies – the moment Glenn Miller (James Stewart) realizes a lead clarinet has transforned “Moonlight Serenade” in The Glenn Miller Story now has a goosebump-raising rival.

John Cusack’s older Wilson is initially a lucid sad-sack as opposed to a vacant bear-man

Love & Mercy interweaves two strands in Wilson’s life: the fall and rise of the hypersensitive, paternally abused prodigy who relinquished touring as a Beach Boy, following a panic attack while airborne, to focus on composing, producing, and inducing hallucinations; the recovery of the schizoid effective disorder patient over-medicated by the 24-hour therapist Eugene Landy in the mid-1980s. John Cusack’s older Wilson is initially a lucid sad-sack as opposed to a vacant bear-man; Paul Giamatti’s Landy is a snarling control freak riding a gravy train.

The film’s bifurcation is complexly gendered since the "later" strand is seen not from the older Wilson's perspective, but that of Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), the sympathetic Cadillac saleswoman who falls for Wilson and attempts to extricate him from Landy's clutches. Wilson and Ledbetter’s own idyll – as escapees from Landy’s yacht who become lovers on a window shelf overlooking the ocean – neatly balances “Good Vibrations”. Though never together, Dano and Banks give the film’s most nuanced performances.

Bill Pohlad, who bankrolled Brokeback Mountain and produced The Runaways, The Tree of Life, and 12 Years a Slave among other ambitious works, directed his first film 25 years ago. This sunlit but turbulent second effort could hardly be more auspicious. He and Moverman provide an audio commentary for the Love & Mercy DVD, which also includes a featurette on the movie’s Californian look.

Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks give the film's most nuanced performances

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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