Love & Mercy (12A)
09:26 09 July 2015
Formed in 1961, The Beach Boys perfectly captured the vitality and exuberance of California’s youth culture, surfing to the top of the charts with harmonised feel-good hits including I Get Around and Help Me, Rhonda.
The sunny, wholesome dispositions of brothers Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson, cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine concealed dark discord.
The Wilson boys cowered in the shadow of their abusive father Murry, who managed the band, and main songwriter Brian was experiencing early manifestations of a mental illness, which combined symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Bill Pohlad’s sensitive biopic explores this turbulent period in the band’s history, juxtaposing Brian’s first battles with his illness and the love affair, some 20 years later, which provided the creative spark for his award-winning solo album, Smile.
Scriptwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A Lerner overcome the daunting prospect of dual timeframes with finesse, while director Pohlad elicits strong performances from Paul Dano and John Cusack as the two incarnations of a song-writing genius.
In the 1980s, Brian (Cusack) meets spunky car dealer Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks).
A nervous first date exposes Wilson’s mental fragility and Melinda learns that the singer-songwriter is under the care of his personal physician, Dr Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).
Brian’s quirks do not deter Melinda and when controlling Dr Landy attempts to terminate the relationship, the plucky car dealer recruits Brian’s housekeeper Gloria (Diana Maria Riva) to expose the medic as a madman.
Intercut with this pivotal romance, stylized flashbacks usher in the groovy 1960s when Brian (Dano) reacts to the release of The Beatles’ Revolver with steely resolve.
“I’m going to write the greatest album ever made,” he promises Dennis (Kenny Wormald), Carl (Brett Davern), Mike (Jake Abel) and Al (Graham Rogers).
While the quartet tours Japan without Brian, he takes up residence in a studio to craft the progressive and daring LP, Pet Sounds.
Brian plays an early version of God Only Knows to his father Murry (Bill Camp) and the old man curls his lip.
“I don’t care for it,” he tells his crestfallen boy.
Brian questions his artistic genius and the sniping voices in his head grow louder...
For a film which confronts the vagaries of the human mind and various forms of abuse, Love & Mercy is too neat in its depictions of characters and their poisonous relationships.
Cusack is in rare form, nicely echoing vocal patterns and mannerisms in Dano’s portrayal, and Banks is luminous in the line of fire.
Giamatti and Camp err perilously close to pantomime villains, the latter eliciting boos when he sells the rights to The Beach Boys songs for a pittance and coldly tells Brian, “Five years from now, no one is going to remember you or The Beach Boys.”
As usual, he was wrong and goodness prevailed.
*** (3 stars)