Love and Mercy
Bill Pohlad is one of Hollywood’s busiest producers, responsible for such highly-regarded dramas as 12 Yearsa Slave, Into the Wild and Brokeback Mountain. His father Carl owns the Minnesota Twins and belongs to the Forbes 400, which suggests how son Bill may have come up with the means to finance the production of over 20 films in what appears to be just the middle of an outstanding career. Here he provides a fascinating study of musical creativity, tracing the career of Brian Wilson, the gifted composer, singer and producer behind The Beach Boys.
While the story touches briefly on the group’s surfin’-style rock & roll hits of the early 1960’s, Love and Mercy primarily concentrates on parallel aspects of the reclusive musician’s life; the growth of his artistic creativity and the mental deterioration which first plagued, then nearly destroyed his life. Paced by sensitive performances from Paul Dano & John Cusack (as younger and older versions of Wilson) and Paul Giamatti’s terrifying portrayal of Wilson’s manipulative psychiatrist, Love and Mercy combines a richly textured examination of creativity with a nerve-racking example of real-life psychiatric hijacking, making this one of the summer’s best offerings to date.
Thanks to the judicious editing of Dino Jonsater (Tinker, Tailor,Soldier, Spy) audiences see alternate versions of Wilson’s emerging talent and near psychotic decline. Dano (Prisoners, Looper, There Will Be Blood) plays Wilson at the height of the group’s success; his intelligent but doughy face combines with composer Atticus Ross’ soundtrack to convey Wilson’s dreamy ability to fashion intricate melodies in his mind, then transfer them into delicately complex songs in a recording studio. Wilson’s growing prowess thus required exhausting rehearsals involving the band’s members and studio musicians brought into the group’s recording sessions to give voice to a creative brilliance that earned Wilson numerous Grammys and a Kennedy Center Honor for his “lifetime contributions to American culture through the performing arts.”</p>
But genius has its price; haunted by childhood memories of his physically abusive father and the demands of the group at the height of its success in the early 1960’s, Wilson kept his demons at bay with a mixture of booze, drugs and LSD which alienated the close-knit members of his band and led ultimately to the surrender of his life to Dr. Eugene Landy, a psychiatrist who became the singer’s legal guardian, manipulating him with a panoply of prescription drugs into such a dependent state that Wilson lost complete control over his own existence.
The eternally boyish John Cusack, one of Hollywood’s most consistently underrated actors (Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, Runaway Jury, Grosse Point Blank) deserves an Oscar nod for his depiction of Wilson’s gradual rescue; with shuffling gait, disjointed interactions with girlfriend Melissa Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) and the nearly endless twitching of his fingers, Cusack provides a brilliant depiction of a man drowning in a sea of medication, desperately trying to resurface and leave a terrifying labyrinth of his own making.
This is a story of reclamation, rather than redemption; as the ending credits roll, Wilson sings the movie’s title song, plaintively documenting the price he’s paid for his success.
The Verdict? A thought-provoking, auditory exploration of musical brilliance; this one has to be heard and well as seen.
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