WRITTEN BY: Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner
DIRECTED BY: Bill Pohlad
STARRING: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
RATING: 4 stars
The film jumps back and forth between the 1960s and 1980s. In the 60's, Beach Boys musical genius Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) struggles with what appears to be emerging psychosis as he attempts to deal with fame while satisfying his creativity. In the 80's, Wilson (John Cusack) has overcome a breakdown and is now under the guardianship of shady psychologist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who monitors his medication and diet until he meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) at a Cadillac showroom and she starts to question Landy's heavy influence on Wilson's life.
Love and Mercy is not a typical biopic. It really only focuses on two eras of Wilson's life and merely alludes to other parts of his past, including his traumatic childhood and those mysterious years in the 1970s when he barely got out of bed. The 60's chapter focusses on the music and LSD lifestyle, while the 80's feels like a psychological thriller, with parts of the story almost hard to fathom as fact. Most biopics follow a linear plot, chronicling a musician's humble beginnings followed by success, a hurdle such as drug abuse, and then a mighty comeback. While Love and Mercy has some of those ingredients, it offers so much more, including details of the time spent in the studio where Wilson honed his craft, which eventually led to his progressive masterpiece album Pet Sounds.
The performances from the principle cast are exceptional. Dano, in particular, is so believable in the way he presents Wilson's artistry and paranoia, while Cusack is also impressive, depicting a more reserved and cautious man. Meanwhile, Giamatti is appropriately creepy and sinister, especially when he smiles. It is great to see Banks excel in a serious role, strutting around in some great fashion from the decade and being a strong, independent woman.
Love and Mercy drags in some parts but it is a heartfelt tribute to one of the world's most beloved bands and a fascinating insight into the creative genius of Wilson's mind.