Love & Mercy

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Love, hate, or just don’t care about The Beach Boys, this biopic of the creative force behind the phenomena that helped define a period of American culture will make you appreciate their output and, more specifically, Brian Wilson’s ability and journey. The film opens brilliantly from the top, sharing a moment of Wilson’s creative struggle followed by a rapid montage of the band’s rise to super-stardom ending with the grinding halt that was Wilson’s removal from the public eye.

At first, I had trouble equating Paul Dano (Prisoners) as the younger Wilson with John Cusack (Grand Piano) as the older. Physically it didn’t work for me. However, the two actors mirrored Wilson and each other enough to eventually erode those concerns. Their performances are complimentary, coming from different periods of Wilson’s life. The aspects and mannerisms that survived the crucible of fame and events that followed his breakout in the 60s were few, but specific enough to provide the needed link.

The supporting parts, however, were more problematic for me. For instance, Paul Giamatti (The Congress) played his part well, but not as sympathetically as I suspect he hoped. There is just nothing redeemable about his character, though it nicely mirrors Wilson’s childhood relationships such that it works thematically, but felt forced.

Elizabeth Banks (Hunger Games) creates a wonderfully warm and accessible character who is both strong and believable, but who is also a touch too pretty all the time. It may not be out of place in California, but unlike someone like Cameron Diaz, she seems incapable or uncomfortable with appearing plain. I would have liked to see her look a bit more natural rather than so plastic. It would have strengthened her part for me.

Similarly, Jake Abel (Good Kill) was a bit too sharp as Mike Love. His character stuck out rather than blended with the story. He may well have been that big an ass in life, but the note clanged, to stick with the theme of the movie.

As director Pohlad’s first return to the main chair in over 20 years, his time as producer guiding and watching other big films come together is evident. The writers, Moverman and Lerner worked with mountains of documentation and access to the subject himself to recreate great characters from the real-world tale. All three have several awards and nominations to their credits as well and it shows in the results.

Despite any of the weaknesses I’ve called out, I admit that this one surprised me. I’d heard good things, but honestly didn’t believe that a good film could come of it, even with some of the background I did know. But this is both an interesting story and a cleverly portrayed look inside the creative mind and output of a verifiable legend. By the end of it all I had a much greater appreciation for what I had always thought of as rather simple music. I’ll never hear it that way again.

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