Paul Dano plays young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.

Paul Dano plays young Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.

Reel Reviews: Biopic shines light on Beach Boy Brian Wilson

Taylor and Howe say, "Love & Mercy is interesting and unique."

  • Sep. 13, 2015 2:00 p.m.

Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) grew up a Beach Boy and enjoyed success young in the turbulent ‘60s.

It was also his growing up that further cemented his diagnosis with a mental illness.

Things being what they were, Wilson simply decides to stay at home, writing “the best album ever made,” while his brothers and the band tour the world. Eventually, the pressures of show business and Wilson’s deteriorating mental state lead to a breakdown of the family and The Beach Boys.

In the 1980s, Wilson (now John Cusack) was left in the care of psychiatrist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) who kept him highly medicated and under constant surveillance.

When Wilson meets the woman who would become his second wife, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), he finds someone who might be able to lift him out of his fog, to live a normal life, to be Brian Wilson.

We say, “Love & Mercy is interesting and unique.”

TAYLOR: Brian Wilson is telling us his story. It has strange details, blank spots, it gets sidetracked sometimes. However, as these vignettes featuring younger and older Wilson unfold, I became fascinated in not just the story, but the telling of the story.

Love & Mercy is a contradiction, brave and cowardly, an intelligent cheat. Entirely effectual by way of our sympathies and his genius, yet providing merely broad stroke highlights, allowing us our own conclusions. (Except perhaps for the fact that Giamatti has portrayed a posse of unpleasantness as of late.)

HOWE: I really knew nothing of Wilson except that he was a singer in The Beach Boys and The Barenaked Ladies wrote a song about him. I was surprised at how many songs that I knew, or rather didn’t know that he had written or sung. I was also surprised by Wilson’s talent.

Love & Mercy is a very well put together movie. I enjoyed that Wilson was portrayed by two actors, Dano as the young and Cusack as the old, rather than just having Dano play him, then adding tons of makeup to make him look old. It never really works; it just looks disturbing.

TAYLOR: It was produced, written, directed and entirely funded by Bill Pohlad, who has produced some of the bravest films of the 21st century, Brokeback Mountain, Into the Wild, The Tree of Life, 12 Years a Slave. The film itself, as an accurate, realistic look at the Brian Wilson story, has existed on paper since 1988. There have been TV movies, but every one glossed over Wilson’s illness.

Love & Mercy is a strange and dark tale, not a Beach Boys movie. It has a happy ending. See it when you can.

HOWE: It surprises me that we didn’t get this at the theatres. I guess it comes down to what is more appealing and going to generate more income, but I would far rather watch something interesting like this, than having trash like The Transporter: Refueled waste my time. Love & Mercy should definitely be up there on this year’s list of movies to watch, even if you are not a fan of The Beach Boys.

– Taylor gives Love & Mercy 4 K’s out of 5.

– Howe gives it 4 trips to the car showroom out of 5.

– Brian Taylor and Peter Howe are The Morning Star’s film reviewers. Their column, Reel Reviews, appears every Friday and Sunday.