The EIFF continues to provide us with some gems as Love & Mercy looks tells the story of one of the most influential bands in American history.
In 1960, at the height of his career creating the iconic Pet Sounds album, Brian Wilson succumbs to drugs and mental illness, while in 1980, help in the form of therapist Dr. Eugene Landy traps him inside his own home, cut off from the world.
As producer, Bill Pohland has struck Oscar gold more than once with films like Brokeback Mountain (2005), Tree of Life (2011) and Twelve Years a Slave (2013).
With Love & Mercy, named after Brian Wilson’s solo hit from 1988, Pohland has also taken over the director’s chair to give us a story that is such prime drama material it’s almost a surprise no one adapted it earlier.
” The Rolling Stones or The Beatles?” is a popular question when music lovers are asked after their favourites, but not everyone might know The Beach Boys, especially their ‘leader’ Brian Wilson (Paul Dano), who was singer, songwriter and producer in one, were hot on their tail for quite a while.
Like many creative minds at the time, Wilson searched for the ultimate new sound with the aid of a fruity cocktail of several drugs, and while today’s consensus is he definitely found it, creative differences with his own band and added mental health issues painted a very different picture during the 1960s, making it one of the most difficult periods in his life.
Parallel to that the film shines a light on the relationship between Brian in the 1980s (now John Cusack) and Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who had been installed as Brian’s legal guardian and therapist to bring about his rehabilitation.
The events between them are a subject of discussion due to the complicated relationship between the parties involved, so with Wilson’s blessing, who otherwise had very little involvement in the way, Pohland and the writers have depicted a Hollywood-friendly yet never overly dramatic version of events that gives due credit to Brian’s second and current wife Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) as the driving force behind his road to health.
Love & Mercy’s biggest credit is the sensitive nature in which it handles real events depicting living people – Wilson is at 73 still successfully touring and has released another album just this year.
Watching the film, you can sense the overall intention is to do the story justice without being a tear-jerker. Also, in more than one occasion interesting cinematic choices are made in order to visualise Brian’s mental state, using sound and images to represent illness and anxiety.
With the script being such an understated affair, Love & Mercy leaves it to its cast to deliver, and how they deliver.
Paul Giamatti’s performance as Dr. Eugene Landy is his best in a long time, short but makes a real impact as he changes his character from chummy to erratic in no time.
John Cusack delivers his best performance in even longer. While he may not look like Wilson, he sounds the part, with facial micro expressions that are definitely worth paying attention to.
The cast of the 1960s segment then not only completely looks the part, it is also overall more important, as it can be met with more scrutiny due to a lot of material chronicling the events is available. Still Pohlman masters this, too, as the cast looks their part right down to their clothes, with Paul Dano shining as emotional yet drug-addled young Brian.
The film is a definite ode to Wilson through and through, and tells an important story that goes far beyond Surfin’ USA.
Love & Mercy is a film made with great respect for a great musician with a colourful past. It is a must for biopic lovers and all those that enjoy a happy ending.
Director: Bill Pohland
Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Running Time: 121 min
Release Date: 10 July 2015