Love and Mercy (2014)


Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 22.58.14The world is divided between those who love the Beach Boys and those who love the Beach Boys – and perhaps don’t want to admit it?

Love and Mercy (2014) is all about Brian Wilson, the genius behind the falsetto wunderkinder. The true story of how they hit on the falsetto route to celebrity is not explained, but otherwise well-known. Wikipedia can outline his descent from musical genius to paranoid and depressive states better than I can. This film focuses on his relationship with a former beauty queen and car salesroom person whom he fell for when he was washed up and unforgiven, and how she extracted him from the grip of a dominating and malevolent group of people who sought to make money out of their guardianship of him.

The young Wilson is played by the very versatile actor Paul Dano (excellent also in  the recent movie Youth) and, older and haggard and world-weary, by the wonderful John Cusack. The chief manipulator is Paul Giamatti.  Elizabeth Banks is absolutely perfect, in every gesture – every movement of doubt, or attraction – in her role as his heart’s elected.

I have no idea how close this film is to the real story, though my personal fact checks suggest pretty close. In itself, it is a great film – the cinematography is not startling, but, to the eagle eye, subtle and compelling.

This is a movie about a man who is still alive. I wonder what he thinks of it?

I was gripped – it had a true story to tell, with great studio scenes (clearly well-researched) showing Wilson’s creativity with studio musicians, and a very sensitive treatment of the love life that saved him, a woman who was not just seeking connection with one of history’s greats but truly connected with everything that was weak and- through weakness – strong in the man. It joins my list of authentic recent American biopic movies – i.e. films that forgo formulaic emotional taps for an approach that respects the subject and the reality of what that person experienced.

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