Love & Mercy (2015) [Review]

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A strong contender for a top 10 film of the year for me, and another in the line of music based appearances on the big screen this year following on from Amy, Montage of Heck and Straight Outta Compton.

Telling the story of Beach Boys lead Brian Wilson, exploring his mysterious creativity and fragile state of mind, we are positioned on two timelines – one firmly in his budding early years, overflowing with passion for the industry and his group, and the second set many years later, when his ‘demons’ have taken control.

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The younger Brian Wilson is played expertly by Paul Dano. Simply captivating every time he is on-screen, obsessing over every singly minor detail often to his own detriment and others around him. As his obsession grows, so too does his mental illness and inability to function properly is fuelled further by his drug use. In the future version, Brian Wilson is played by John Cusack, a tepid yet volatile man, seemingly confused yet clear when he speaks, a man who appears devoid of hope and direction.

It flips between these two tangents simply and effectively; never does it feel confusing or jumbled, and the dangerous ground of over-describing the events missed or just seen when stories are told in this way is avoided. The audience is treated intelligently, and it makes for a much better viewing experience than one whereby we are spoon-fed everything.

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Being unfamiliar with the exact detail of Beach Boys history will not hold you back from enjoying this film, as no doubt almost everyone has heard some if not all of the tracks from the famous ‘Pet Sounds’ album. Even if you haven’t, it doesn’t matter. A failure in the US upon release, and the bands 11th studio album, this record frames the story for which we see Brian Wilson’s life explored. How can one man, who poured his heart into an album, while slowly processing a mental illness continue to function? The immediate answer is drugs, with an assist from Dr Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), and the outcome is shown as the off kilter John Cusack.

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Giamatti, in his second musical biopic of the year after Straight Outta Compton, is easily detestable as the manipulative Eugene Landy, opposite Brian’s love interest Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), the two create a whirlwind of conflicting emotion for which Brian remains imbalanced and at odds with himself.

Great performances, direction and screenwriting make Love & Mercy a real joy to watch, but still remain ultimately chilling at many points. That being said, Wilson’s history of abuse, mental illness and mistreatment could have easily been exploited for cheap sympathy, but instead it appears as an ambitious insertion into the musician biopic genre.

It shows the true genius of an inspiring and talented individual, set against a carefully selected soundtrack of his greatest musical works, but more importantly, shows us how he got to make them.

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