Love and Mercy

Recent film biographies have come in a standard formula.  Charting the rise, fall and rise again of a subject, fans know what to expect.  If a biography explores a musician, producers also have keen eyes on album sales.  ‘Love and Mercy’ takes a different approach.  Not a biography of the Beach Boys but of lead singer Brian Wilson, a differing time-line showing Wilson’s younger and older persona mostly works.  Crafting an image of a talented but conflicted soul, Wilson’s personal darkness became hidden behind his group’s sunny hits.


Achieving huge success with The Beach Boys, singer/songwriter Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) enjoys life.  Penning hits such as ‘Surfin USA’, ‘Good Vibrations’ and ‘God Only Knows’, his skills are much in demand.  His songs hid a darker side with an illness soon to derail him.  Flash forward a few decades, and an older Wilson (John Cusack) wonders what happened.  Under the spell of his therapist Dr. Landy (Paul Giamatti), his relationship with his girlfriend Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) is tested.  Soon past and present merge to reveal a battle Wilson has fought for decades.


‘Love and Mercy’ is an engrossing study in the darker side of creativity.  Presented as a gifted song-writer, ‘Love and Mercy’ shows Wilson constantly plagued by voices he can’t stop.  Whether they be his manipulative doctor, his fellow band-mates or family, how Wilson was able to generate such a catalogue of successful songs is remarkable.  Conveying how his early personal troubles plagued him later in life, the narrative is an interesting juxtaposition of fame and its consequences.


Whilst engaging overall ‘Love and Mercy’ works better when examining Wilson’s latter life.  Cusack, Giamatti and Banks give excellent performances as characters struggling with Wilson’s soul.  From Giamatti’s seething menace to Banks’ steely determination, it is easy investing in their roles.  Dano does well in the earlier sequences although Bill Pohlad’s leaden direction fails to fully connect them with Wilson’s latter life.  It may have been more compelling just exploring one narrative than two even if the cast in both time-lines provide strong performances.


Discarding the ‘jukebox musical’ formula others lazily copy, ‘Love and Mercy’ does something different.  It doesn’t always work but when it does it continually grips.  Beach Boys fans may be shocked by some of the revelations but it shows another angle beyond the bright days of the band’s persona.


Rating out of 10:  6

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