It’s rare these days that I come out of a movie feeling like I’ve been changed.
Movies like “Jurassic World” or “Ant-Man” are fun, but they aren’t exactly moving. “Inside Out” is moving and sweet, but I’m not sure seeing it makes an impact on my thought processes.
And then I saw “Love & Mercy.” You might not have seen a trailer or even heard of it, but it’s a film you need to see.
It’s the story of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. I’ve been a fan of the group’s music since I was a little girl, but this isn’t just a film about beach sounds or the trials and triumphs of a band like many musical bio-pics. Instead, it’s the story of one man’s battle with a genius that threatened to consume him.
John Cusack and Paul Dano both play Brian — Dano during The Beach Boys’ heyday in the 1960s and Cusack in the 1980s, when Brian has become more reclusive and medicated.
Life wasn’t easy for Brian or his brothers. Their father, Murry, was reportedly abusive, to the point of hitting Brian hard enough once to cause permanent hearing loss. For a time, Murry was managing the Beach Boys but was fired.
At the height of the band’s success, Brian suffered a panic attack that led to his taking a break from touring indefinitely. As the rest of the band went overseas, Brian stayed home to create what would become one of the greatest albums ever in music, “Pet Sounds.”
The album wasn’t received as well as the band’s surfer tunes had been. “Pet Sounds” wasn’t a normal album. It was a creation the likes of which no one had ever heard before. The melodies weren’t simply made by “typical” instruments, but by animals, bicycle bells and a variety of other things you and I might simply view as noise.
But it wasn’t noise to Brian Wilson, and the resulting album was magical, although its significance wouldn’t be recognized for years to come. The album was also symbolic of the “noise” in Brian’s head.
Dano takes the audience on a journey into Brian’s descent into darkness. As his story progresses, his mind becomes more clouded. He battles paranoia while a cacophony of sounds only he can hear tear at him, overwhelming him.
Cusack shows us what has become of Brian. He’s no longer touring, and he’s lost touch with family and friends. He’s divorced and hasn’t spoken to his daughters or brothers/bandmates in years. He’s under the 24/7 care of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who has guards and caretakers that watch Brian at all times.
Cusack’s Brian meets Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) as she’s selling him a car. He’s odd and his guards are off-putting, but she’s still intrigued by this strange man, even before she realizes he’s a famous musician.
Their love story is beautifully incorporated into the film. The film portrays an extremely controlling and abusive relationship between Brian and his doctor. He’s over-medicated and bullied. He lives in fear of Landy and under his control.
The relationship that develops between the two is kind of amazing, and I applaud both Banks — praise I’m a little surprised to give out — and Cusack for the portrayals. Their romance is cautious, charming and kind of sweet, although totally complicated.
Ultimately, the film is filled with fantastic performances. Dano and Cusack, both bring their independent take to Brian, but the two performances combine to create a united character.
If you love Beach Boys music, go see this movie. If you want to see the fascinating journey a musical genius can take, go. If you’re just interested in seeing a brilliantly done film, go.
Director Bill Pohlad intricately weaves together the two Brians into a seamless tale. The colors, the sounds and the storytelling itself creates a film that leaves you seeing the world just a little bit differently. I found myself lost in the music right along with Brian.
As with all bio-pics, liberties were probably taken here and there, but the story “Love & Mercy” tells is beautiful, nonetheless. Brian Wilson — and the rest of the Beach Boys — brought magic to so many lives. Whether with the rambunctious sounds of a beach anthem that made you smile or the haunting melodies of ballads like “Only God Knows,” their music touched people.
“Love & Mercy” is the story of how high a cost those songs brought. Brian Wilson had — and still has — music that needed to get out. Through his music, and later through his relationship with Melinda, he found healing. We might not have the gifts or genius he does, but maybe just maybe, that’s still something we can all understand and appreciate.