Sunday, September 6, 2015

Film Review: Love & Mercy (2015)

Copyright: Roadside Attractions
The goal of the Love & Mercy and its director Bill Pohlad are clear from the first moment of the film, which show John Cusack as an older Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys who wants to buy a car somewhere in the 1980’s. Wilson, now an unrecognizable middle-aged man, lost all of this drive and creativity that help him create one of the most successful bands in the U.S. history.

Deeply troubled by emotional issues and under the constant supervision of a strange psychotherapist, Wilson loses days and months, maybe even years in a haze of prescription drugs and complete lack of interest in anything in the world around him. Then, without any warning or sign, the story rewinds 20 years into the past, where the young Brian, now at the top of his game, desires to make an incredible album which will break away the Beach Boys from their fake surfer vibe he gradually came to despise.

But at the same time, his mind is eroding, accompanied by audio hallucinations and deterring emotional stability, which is additionally fueled by drug use. At both times, Wilson tries his hardest to follow his vision and share the love he feels with people around him but ends up isolated in the world that is becoming more and more distant to him.

Pohlad made Love & Mercy in a way that really underlines Wilson’s musical genius and his ability to expand the realm of popular music when no one asked or expected that of him. The film shines while it shows famous Beach Boy’s songs being made in the studio and Wilson, who is terrifically portrayed by Paul Dano, both lost in his miraculous world of sounds and terrified by the things he suspects are coming. Unlike the, for example, Benedict Cumberbatch's uneven presentation of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Dano makes Wilson’s instantly connectable, even when he’s losing his mind. Because of this, all those who love or at least know these songs will definitely feel at least a spark of jubilation while they watch how Good Vibrations or some other track slowly come into existence. At the same time, they will also some other darker emotions, seeing in what agony they were created.

Pohlad, who isn’t new to movies but is new to directing, can’t evade the lure of the regular protagonist-antagonist plotline, which dampens the part of the story which takes place in the 1980’s. Here, Dr. Eugene Landy is depicted as a tyrant and a madman who keeps Wilson down, while his newfound girlfriend tries to pull him out of this toxic relationship. Paul Giamatti does a great job as Landy, but I feel that this part of the script failed an otherwise wondrous film by making sure the audience had a bogeyman to hate. Like the Wilson’s real life, I feel this uncalled-for Hollywoodization of his story only subtracted from it but didn’t add much an aside of the cheap thrills of having a bad guy in this musical biography.

There is no doubt that the mind of Brian Wilson was and probably still is a marvelous and terrible place. As a gentle soul who wanted to give people the gift of music, he got a life that had way too much suffering and pain. Love & Mercy might not do him justice in every possible way or as much as he deserves, but it is still a window into a fascinating man. It is clear that the world needed that window and having it is a joyful occasion.

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