September 27, 2022

SXSW15 Review – Love & Mercy (2014)


Love & Mercy is a biopic about Beach Boy Brian Wilson. The film centres around two parts of Brian’s life. The period of 66 –71 when Brian was recording and writing Pet Sounds and Smile, in which Paul Dano (12 Years a Slave, Looper) takes the lead, and the late 80’s/early 90’s where John Cusack (Maps to the Stars, The Bag Man) plays Brian whilst courting his second wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, The Lego Movie) and being controlled by psychotherapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti; Madame Bovary, The Amazing Spider-Man 2).

For the 60’s era there is a lot of preexisting footage of recording sessions and live performances readily available which the film takes inspiration from.  Some scenes go to great lengths to recreate the existing footage including the Sloop John B video and the recording of Pet Sounds with the Wrecking Crew. This period is more light-hearted, but documents the beginning of Brian’s illnesses and his battles with straight-laced band mate and cousin Mike Love (Jake Abel, The Host, The Lovely Bones) and there are also plenty of provocative one-liners from brother Dennis (Kenny Wormald; Footloose (2011), Kid Canabis). With Dennis Wilson being my personal favourite Beach Boy, I was pleased to see him garner some attention from the writers, to ensure his part was a bit more than just being a background figure.

Obviously John Cusack is playing Brian Wilson in a time in his life when Brian Wilson was not himself, but I never thought, oh that is Brian Wilson, it was always, that is John Cusack. He does a fine job, but compared to the convincing effort which Dano does to recreate and become Brian by putting on weight and mimicking his voice, you never got that from Cusack. It seems strange that they’d stylise Dano to look like a young Wilson, but not do anything to Cusack, they don’t even make him look like an older Dano. Incidentally Paul Giamatti is very entertaining, comedic and brilliant as Eugene Landy, but of course looks nothing like him either.

The true star of the film is however Elizabeth Banks’ Melinda whose act of heroism in the film in protecting Brian and helping him get back to himself was just so emotionally humbling and moving. I’ll probably be completely wrong, but in my opinion it was an award winning performance and if she does not get recognised for her performance in the film, I’ll be sincerely disappointed.

If the film had of just been the 60’s, it could have felt like your typical average musical biopic. Showing the 80’s story interspersed with 60’s clips gave the film some gravitas and a central relationship story and made the film more digestible for passing fans.  Centring on these two eras in Brian’s life also made sense so as to not cram in too much into the film. It ensured the film didn’t just attacking the bullet points of Brian’s life and there was time to explore and give space to the subject. Even though fans such as myself may find some enjoyment in seeing the recording of Love You and Holland being documented, I appreciate these have limited appeal. (Though the musical sadist in me thinks it’s a shame they didn’t shoehorn in a mention about the time Brian had a go at rapping.)

The first line of the Brian Wilson song Love & Mercy makes reference to a crummy movie. Thankfully this isn’t that movie, Love & Mercy is a well executed and enjoyable film. There’s enough geekery for any Beach Boys fan to get excited about, but also a real emotional roller coaster of a story for everyone to get swept up in.


Alice Hubley

Genre: Musical biopic, Drama Venue: SXSW15 Rating:TBA Running Time: 120 mins Director:Bill Pohlad Cast: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti