Reviewed by: Jeremy Landes
music in the Bible
mental health / multiple nervous breakdowns / manic-depressive with schizoaffective disorder
auditory hallucinations after experimenting with psychedelic drugs
Drugs are NOT a pathway to God, as Brian Wilson was wrongly told.
Use of illegal drugs, especially LSD, seem to have permanently damaged Brian Wilson, according to his own testimony.
importance of helping people struggling with delusion, manipulation and addiction
|Featuring:||John Cusack … Brian Wilson - older
Paul Dano … Brian Wilson
Elizabeth Banks … Melinda Ledbetter
Paul Giamatti … Dr. Eugene Landy
Jake Abel … Mike Love
Tyson Ritter … Hipster #1
Dee Wallace … Rosemary
|Producer:||River Road Entertainment
Battle Mountain Films
|Distributor:||Roadside Attractions, a division of Lionsgate Films|
Throughout his life, the Beach Boys’ songwriter/singer has been known for taking huge creative risks in his music, so Bill Pohlad’s film about Brian Wilson’s life also makes some huge narrative leaps that demand much attention from the audience to keep up.
“Love and Mercy” is a moving portrait of a complicated man who has brought joy to millions through his songs about the surfing life and cars. He also obsessively “plays the [music] studio,” using dog barks, a theremin, vibraphones, and pushing his bandmates to create new musical harmonies to fulfill his vision for what a great album should be. During about half the film, we see Paul Dano’s portrayal of the younger Brian Wilson at the peak of his creativity, laboring over the album “Pet Sounds” and alienating some fellow musicians through his unorthodox methods. He doesn’t help his cause by experimenting with drugs during this time, though the filmmakers do seem to draw a direct correlation between Wilson getting high on marijuana and developing the hit song “Good Vibrations.”
These scenes alternate with John Cusack’s portrayal of the older Wilson in the late “80s when the songwriter’s history of drug use has brought him into a virtual prison underneath the legal guardianship of psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Isolated from his children, band, and everyone else, Wilson sends a distress call to a saleswoman he meets in a Cadillac showroom, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). After Landy allows his patient to take Melinda on a supervised date to see The Moody Blues, this opens a door for Ledbetter and Wilson to begin a relationship that begins to subvert the doctor’s plans to manipulate and exploit Wilson through prescription drugs.
It’s incredibly sad watching a genius like Wilson destroy his life and lose his family through drugs, melting under the abuse of his father (who resents his son for firing him as manager of The Beach Boys) and yielding ground to his cousin, lead singer Mike Love, who demands that Wilson create more popular songs from their past, carefree formula about surfing (even though most of the band never actually surfs). Though the film doesn’t offer a ham-handed message of “Don’t do drugs,” you hear the regret in Wilson’s voice as he recalls the past and tells Ledbetter how he has been a bad father and why he believes Landy’s message that he must stay isolated from friends and family for their sake and his own health.
Ledbetter becomes one of the film’s protagonists when she becomes convinced that Wilson must be saved from Landy, and it’s very moving to watch her stand up to this very evil, angry man with money and a team of thugs on his side. Her self-sacrifice is likely the main reason why Wilson is alive today making music. The performances by Dano, Cusack, Banks, and Giamatti are compelling. Dano especially seems to inhabit the soul of Wilson. It’s amazing to watch him creating wonderful music even when he seems a little crazy in his methods.
In one studio session scored to the Beach Boys” “Surf’s Up” I found myself tearing up as Wilson silently orchestrated a choir, wearing firehats, while he filled the room with a fire extinguisher.
There’s a scene implying that Wilson and Ledbetter have recently had premarital sex, and there are many scenes showing drug and alcohol use, along with smoking. There is some bad language spoken by Landy, and this character’s anger is scary and violent enough to even frighten the real-life Wilson when he watched the film.
I heartily recommend this movie to anyone who has enjoyed The Beach Boys and could be uplifted by a story of love’s power to overcome evil. The soundtrack by Atticus Ross (“The Social Network”), though odd at times, is an amazing achievement in experimental sounds a la Brian Wilson.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate to heavy—“Jesus” (6), G*d-d*mn (6), God (6) / Sex/Nudity: Mild
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.