Biopic of the life of Beach Boys member and key song writer Brian Wilson, told as a dramatic interpretation in two different time frames – the first with Paul Dano as a youthful Wilson in the sixties just beginning to establish himself creatively and struggling to convince the others of the need to outgrow their initial pop hits, and the second with John Cusack portraying him as a deeply troubled adult who’s life is dominated by the attentions of his almost live-in psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) whilst he tries to embark on a romantic relationship with serendipitous car sales rep Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks).
Both performers have done a really great job of identifying with that period of Wilson’s life – especially true for Cusack who throws in a number of clever nuances here and there, with Banks and Giamatti predictably good in their supporting roles too. As you might imagine, Beach Boys tracks feature heavily throughout (though composer Atticus Ross has often rearranged the wealth of original material they had access to, using their music to subtly create something unique for the film), including their enduring ‘God Only Knows’ and it’s fascinating seeing the negative and damaging reaction that Wilson gets from his father, and one time manager, regarding the song which would go on to become significant to so many people. Indeed, I used to have a young lass tied up in my dungeon for whom the song was the most important in her life. She likely has a different interpretation of it now, but nevertheless the film manages to take a lot of these music industry clichés: familial opposition, drugs, not appreciated in own time etc., and put them into a narrative that not only neatly absorbs them but also makes you appreciate them anew with a compelling story and a sympathetic main character.
The balance between each timeline is perfect and it really tells that director Bill Pohlad (more usually known as a producer on such films as ‘12 Years a Slave‘ and ‘Into the Wild’ 07) was determined to tell a real, accurate story with precious little in the way of embellishment. Indeed, the film has been heralded by all as remarkably true to events and if anything it seems to make the villainous characters seem nicer than they were in real life. All of which makes ‘Love and Mercy’ (the title coming from the opening track of Wilson’s debut solo album) not only a great film, but a sterling example of what biographies and historical films should be trying to achieve.