Love & Mercy

Many years ago, in the early days of the blog, I mentioned one of Bill Maher’s dumbest bits. “I’m not promoting drug use,” he’d say, “but it hasn’t hurt my record collection any.” To which I always wanted to retort, “Yeah, those latest albums from Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious, et al, are just great aren’t they?”

I can’t say Brian Wilson’s psychosis was brought on or got out of control because he took LSD, but I’m guessing a drug that’s actually designed to simulate insanity isn’t the best thing to take for someone who is already inclined that way.

Anyway, it was cool to see this movie so shortly after The Wrecking Crew, since they feature fairly prominently here.

My aversion to musical biopics aside, this is a particularly good and different one. The story is split between the ‘60s, as we watch Brian Wilson’s genius blossom into amazing music and spiral into insanity, and the late ’80s/early ’90s, where the shell of Brian Wilson falls in love with a cadillac salesgirl who ultimately ends up saving his life from a Svengali/Mengele psychiatrist.

The performances are great. Paul Dano (Being Flynn, Looper, 12 Years A Slave) plays younger Brian and actually takes the bold step of putting on some weight, besides seeming to have utterly absorbed Wilson’s personality. John Cusack is his usual slender self, and I felt like he had the easier, if weirder, role as the more burnt-out Wilson. Paul Giamatti is as only Paul Giamatti can be, as the evil Dr. Landy.

The hero of the story, though, perhaps oddly, is Melinda, who finds herself immediately attracted to the romantic oddball who wants to buy a Cadillac, and just so happens to be a titan of ’60s pop music. Elizabeth Banks does a sensitive, wonderful job here.

The Flower loves “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” because it’s so upbeat. I was kind of glad she didn’t come with us to see this, since the story isn’t, overall, a happy one.

But is interesting. The movie gives us little tastes of Wilson’s life, with big chunks missing and implied, which rather adds to the feeling that it’s been a sort of fractured life. Forgoing the usual rags-to-riches clichés, we start with the Beach Boys at their popular height, the cruel pettiness of the Wilsons’ father, the bold experimentation that led to Pet Sounds which, I’m told, is particularly significant in the rock genre. (In The Wrecking Crew, someone mentions that Beatles’ producer George Martin was trying to emulate Pet Sounds on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.)

So you get—sort of refreshingly really—Wilson the artist straining against The Beach Boys as a product, and not really being understood, even as he’s making songs that are iconic today. This is a common struggle in the biopic but it has some authenticity here.

Meanwhile, the “modern” Brian has kids he’s not allowed to see, and a dead brother who still kind of haunts him, and a “doctor” who’s driving him to produce,

Anyway, it is very good, dramatically speaking. I have no confidence that it’s anything like a fair representation of the man’s life, which is my usual problem with musical biopics.

The Boy, who has no knowledge of or interest in the music also liked it a great deal.

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