Love & Mercy

Directed By: Bill Pohlad

Starring: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Giamatti

I would be lying if I were to say that am a huge fan of the Beach Boys.  I'm familiar with their discography, and I respect what they accomplished in their day.  However, I'm not exactly rocking to their tunes on Amazon Prime.  That being said, this doesn't mean that I can't appreciate Brian Wilson's tale.  After all, there's a rich story to be told here.  A musical heavyweight whose career went sideways thanks to drug addiction, mental illness, and abuse by his doctor is the stuff of which biopics are made.  The proof is in the pudding because director Bill Pohlad concocts one delightfully quirky film in Love & Mercy.

Brian Wilson (older - John Cusack; younger - Paul Dano) wants to buy a Cadillac.  Former model Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) is just the woman to get him what he wants.  When the eccentric Brian starts looking at cars, sales representative Melinda makes the sale unaware of Brian's musical past with the Beach Boys.  When his bodyguards and his doctor Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) arrive at the dealership, Melinda gets a clearer idea about Brian.  Later, Brian and Melinda begin dating and fall for one another.  There's a reason Brian seems eccentric in their first encounter, however, and Melinda is getting ready to learn the about the man behind the music.

Eugene is not only Brian's doctor but serves as his primary caregiver and legal guardian.  Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Brian is often heavily medicated and is a shell of his former self.  On top of all of this, his relationship with Eugene, who is often very abusive of his patient, is anything but healthy.  With a front row seat for the tragedy of Brian's life, Melinda encourages her man to put his affairs in order and get away from Eugene.  She sees the greatness within him.  The film chronicles Melinda's struggle to help Brian.  It simultaneously explores a younger Brian's descent into this sad state of affairs courtesy of drug abuse and mental troubles at the height of his career with the Beach Boys.

Whether you're familiar with the music of the Beach Boys or not, it's hard to deny that musical biopic Love & Mercy doesn't miss a beat.  Bill Pohlad gives us a finely crafted period drama harkening back to both the 60s and 80s.  He deftly explores the nuances and experiences of an individual suffering from mental illness utilizing several cinematic techniques to immerse his viewers in this effort as well.  He even offers dueling portrayals of a young and old Wilson with cast members Paul Dano and John Cusack.  All in all, Pohlad's Love & Mercy is a well-made biopic that finds its groove.

The filmmaking from Pohlad is second to none in Love & Mercy.  The cinematography says it all.  The grainy, pale visuals make it seem as if the film were shot back in the 60s.  The same can be said of the decidedly more pristine visuals of the late 80s and early 90s.  This helps to showcase the different periods of Wilson's life captured on the big screen.  Immersing his audience into Brian's mental illness, he often uses a cacophony of sound.  Voices, clatter at the dinner table with silverware, and random noises all help illustrate that with which Brian is seemingly inundated when his illness takes hold.  All in all, these stylistic flourishes are the mark of a skilled filmmaker at work.

The performances from the cast are quite impressive as well.  For his part as the younger Brian Wilson, Paul Dano is pitch perfect.  Full of musical creativity, Dano offers us an interpretation of Wilson at the height of his career with the Beach Boys and takes us on Wilson's long, turbulent spiral downward as an increasingly troubled man.  For his part as the older Wilson, John Cusack gives us somewhat of the inverse of Dano's character.  He gives us a man broken by his troubles yet focused on taming the voices in his head, whether constructively with the help of Melinda or abusively with the help of Eugene.  Both offer fascinating performances as the same character at different periods in his life.  Fresh from directing and acting in Pitch Perfect 2, Elizabeth Banks gives a sensitive yet strong performance as Melinda Ledbetter.  Meanwhile, Paul Giamatti brings the thunder and the theatrics as Wilson's legal guardian Dr. Eugene Landy.

Love & Mercy is an extremely well-made film.  Again, I'm no fan of the Beach Boys, but I respect their body of work.  They're before my time.  That being said, this well-made film from Bill Pohlad and his cast took me on a musical history lesson that schooled me on one of the lesser known talents of a generation in Brian Wilson.  Featuring good tunes, strong filmmaking, and equally strong performances from the cast, the film hits the right note.  Love & Mercy gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.