FILM REVEW: Love & Mercy (2014)

Paul Dano

The story of Brian Wilson is already the stuff of legend, which makes a biopic about the genius songwriter next to inevitable. It’s been a long time coming, but we now finally have a proper Brian Wilson biopic in the form of “Love & Mercy”. With the use of alternating timelines, the story of “Love & Mercy” focuses on two important parts of Wilsons life: first is the creation of the band’s masterpiece, “Pet Sounds”, and the second timeline focuses on Wilson’s time with the psychotherapist Eugene Landy who proved to be a negative influence on the musician.

Considering the film’s dual timelines, director Bill Pohlad had to cast two actors to play Brian Wilson: John Cusack and Paul Dano. Dano shines in the role, embodying Wilson during his creative peak. All of the important beats of Wilson’s life with the Beach Boys was covered in these parts of the movie, from Wison’s issues with his father to his relationship with Mike Love who was a noted voice of dissent by the time Wilson started experimenting musically.

While Paul Dano was quite possibly the first and best choice to play Brian Wilson during his younger years, John Cusack was a more curious choice. The actor doesn’t exactly look the part, and they never attempted to hide that fact, forgoing cheesy make-up effects that other biopics have been keen to do in the past. However, if you get past that, it’s clear to see that Cusack delivered one of his best performances in recent years. He was able to channel Wilson’s insecurity, his deteriorating mental state, and his vulnerability and he ran with it.

Cusack and Dano clearly gave it their all. However, the supporting cast is mixed bag. As Eugene Landy, Paul Giammati chewed every scene that he was in while Elizabeth Banks who plays Melinda Ledbetter tries to do her best in a role that was a tad bit underwritten, which is bad considering she plays such an important role in the story.

Bill Pohlad who’s known primarily as a producer and has only one other directing credit to his name, was able to give the material justice. Although the result is ultimately uneven. The parts with the younger Wilson were directed with a certain style and attention to detail that elevates it from the rest of the film, resulting in what seems to be two different films mashed together.

“Love & Mercy” is an enjoyable watch for people who are interested in Brian Wilson’s story and legacy, however it falls short due to uneven pacing, and lacklustre writing. Despite all its flaws, it still deserves to be watched if only to see Paul Dano knock it out of the park.

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