Beach Boys film illuminates struggles


Kyle Arensdorf

We all know the music of the Beach Boys. Even if younger fans don’t know who they are, they at least recognize the iconic rhythms of “Surfin’ U.S.A.” or “Wouldn’t it be Nice.”

However, not many young fans can tell you the behind-the-scenes story of the band’s lead singer, Brian Wilson.

In the first scene of Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy,” we see the young Wilson (Paul Dano) sitting at his piano bench quietly talking to himself. To the audience it’s incessant muttering; to Wilson it’s just a necessary part of the process.

Next we get our first glance at the other half of the Brian Wilson ensemble, played by John Cusack.

Wilson enters a Cadillac dealership and is met by Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who he asks to accompany him in one of the display cars.

It’s here we get our first whiff of his anxiety, as his bodyguards – veritable “handlers” led by his psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti) – circle in on the car.

For the remainder of the film’s 121-minute runtime we’re presented with a medley of Cusack and Dano playing the po-faced Wilson with nearly identically nuanced mannerisms.

Wilson suffers from an unspecified mental illness, and in early scenes he makes the decision to no longer travel with the band and instead stays back to write new music – music that eventually becomes the band’s “Pet Sounds” album.

Wilson not only struggles with a mental illness, he also battles a deteriorating relationship with his father.

He attempts to control Wilson and his brother, and we can deduce the stranglehold he had on the band in the early days.

The tumultuous relationship is mirrored in his later life as his psychiatrist takes a manipulative interest in his life.

General audiences get turned off when they hear the word “biopic” when referring to a film, and rightly so. We’ve been desensitized by lackluster narrative snooze-fests like “The Theory of Everything” or “The Imitation Game” last year.

What makes “Love & Mercy” a great overall film — and what turns just another boring biopic into a palatable narrative — is writing.

The way the film is spliced between past and deeper past creates a whimsical film worthy of Wilson’s genius.

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