Love and Mercy (2014)

Cast includes: Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks), John Cusack (High Fidelity), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games), Paul Giamatti (Sideways)
Director: Bill Pohlad (12 Years a Slave, Brokeback Mountain, Tree of Life)
Genre: Drama | Biography | Music (121 minutes)

Huffington Post

“What if I lose it and never get it back,” says Brian to nobody in particular. He’s trying to get the music part worked out in his head. “Everybody’s gone surfin’… Surfing U.S.A.” The Beach Boys are getting a lot of mileage out of their unique, sunny California sound. They pose for publicity shots and give interviews, all in that familiar early Technicolor look. Back to today’s color palette… “Are these your shoes?” Melinda asks. Brian leaves his shoes on the floor because he doesn’t want to get sand in the new Cadillac Fleetwood he wants to buy. Even though Brian introduces himself, Melinda thinks he’s just a mixed up but harmless middle-aged man. “My brother died,” says Brian. “Drowned 2 years ago… better not to think about it.” Anyway, Brian wants to buy the car but can’t do anything without his fulltime shrink, Dr. Eugene Landy… “Brian’s brother from a different mother.”

“Do you know who this man is?” Obviously, Landy’s going to tell Melinda… Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys. She loves their music… “I grew up on it.” Back to early Technicolor, the band is traveling and Brian thinks he’s having a heart attack. We recognize it as a panic attack, but the incident finally gives him an excuse to skip the tour to Japan. Brian stays in California to work on new music. Inspired by some of the Beatles’ new sounds, Brian wants to work with every kind of sound he can think of… trains, dogs, horns... “God only knows what I’d be without you,” Brian sings for his dad. “You don’t want my advice,” Dad says. He’s still reeling because the brothers “fired him.” “Too wishy-washy. The brothers are going to hate it.” And they do. It’s not the sunny California sound they’re known for. Brian can’t do that sound any more. “You’re blowing our minds, kid,” the musicians tell him. The band humors him and records “God Only Knows”… probably to prove that it doesn’t work. But it becomes a run-away hit.

Throughout the 1960s The Beach Boys were one of America’s most popular bands. But even then, songwriter Brian Wilson struggled with mental illness… not to mention, drug and alcohol addiction. The 1987 Brian never goes anywhere without Dr. Landy and an assortment of “bodyguards.” When he wants to have dinner with his new friend, Melinda, Dr. Landy is always looming. Dr. Landy has Brian on a pile of drugs, and it’s hard to tell whether the drugs are helping or making Brian crazy. Love and Mercy is made in a way that has us guessing what’s real and what’s crazy. Although music is a central part of the narrative, the film isn’t as much about the music as about the person who invented many of The Beach Boys’ most creative sounds. The actors who play young Brian and middle age Brian (Paul Dano and John Cusack) are both excellent, but it’s a bit jarring at first because they look nothing alike. You never know what to expect with a director Bill Pohlad film, because his work is never formulaic or predictable. No doubt, some would prefer a more nostalgic view of the popular rock group, but that’s not the film Pohlad wanted to make. We remember The Beach Boys for their happy sound, but getting there wasn’t always happy. “Life can be painful at times. We’re not surfers,” says Brian. They humored him and recorded “Good Vibrations”… the best selling single The Beach Boys ever had!

popcorn rating

3 popped kernels

Was paranoid schizophrenia the creative force behind some of The Beach Boys’ classic hits?

Popcorn Profile

Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Limited Release 
Mood: Sober
Tempo: Cruises Comfortably
Visual Style: Unvarnished Realism
Nutshell: Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Informative

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