Love & Mercy
I never knew about Brian Wilson’s struggles with mental illness, but of course I know the Beach Boys’ songs. Even for this relative novice, watching how classics like Good Vibrations and God Only Knows came into being is a fascinating, troubling experience. Doubtless there will be true fans for whom this film chronicling Wilson’s life will be part-revelation, part-devastation.
We first meet Wilson in a Cadillac dealership, where he encounters the luminous Melinda (Elizabeth Banks, finally freed from all the silliness of Pitch Perfect and The Hunger Games). Thereafter ensues a now-and-then tale of the main Beach Boy’s rise through fame and fortune and subsequent descent into hell.
What elevates Love & Mercy above a standard biopic are the lead performances from Paul Dano (Wilson the younger) and John Cusack (1980s Wilson). Despite never being able to quite suspend my disbelief that it was Dano and Cusack up on screen, they are both sensational at inhabiting Wilson’s nervous tics and wild-eyed paranoia as Paul Giamatti’s perfectly nuanced psychologist ingratiates himself into Wilson’s world, gradually taking complete, frightening control.
It is a gruelling watch at times, whatever your attachment to the man or the music. Wilson’s dissociative behaviour (sensitively portrayed by Cusack) clearly arose out of an abusive childhood, but, as is so often the way, his musical brilliance – the essence of some of the movie’s most enthralling scenes – also grew out of his dysfunction. Love & Mercy is tribute and education all in one.