May 28, 2015 at 2:34 am #187243
I’m excited for this! I don’t really listen to the Beach Boys (except when at a water park) but I’m really excited for Paul Dano. He’s one of our great young talents over the last 10 yearsMay 28, 2015 at 3:42 am #187244
Dano’s hairdo looks “normal”!!!!! OMG! I dont know how I feel about that after all these years and hairdos.
I always made fun of the Beach Boys, to be honest, but I’m into this bio. Thanks for posting it 24.
I hope the film goes some way to vindicating Eugene Landy at least somewhat, as well. He’s a psychologist, NOT a psychiatrist.
Lol……June 3, 2015 at 2:08 pm #187245
Sasha Stone attended a screening of Love & Mercy last night — http://www.awardsdaily.com/blog/2015/06/heroes-and-villains-brian-wilsons-story-told-in-excellent-new-film/June 3, 2015 at 2:10 pm #187246
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
‘Love & Mercy’: Film Review
11:19 PM PDT 9/7/2014 by John DeFore
The Bottom Line
An unusual, moving portrait stuffed with the thrill of music-making
Toronto International Film Festival, Special Presentations
John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Paul Dano and John Cusack play Brian Wilson at different ages in Bill Pohlad’s pop biopic
A deeply satisfying pop biopic whose subject’s bifurcated creative life lends itself to an unconventional structure, Bill Pohlad‘s Love & Mercy spends time with Brian Wilson both while his mental illness was a storm gathering on the Beach Boys‘ horizon and years later, as he tried to break away from a doctor who was using that illness to control his life. Balancing the emotionally involving drama in that later story with the thrilling musical creation in the earlier one, the picture would be exciting even if all it offered was the vision of Paul Dano‘s Wilson guiding musicians through the creation of Pet Sounds; but as the older Wilson, John Cusack gives one of the best performances of his career, its effectiveness limited only by his lack of a physical resemblance to the songwriter. That will be a stumbling block for some fans, but those who can get beyond it will find a very fine film about a singular artist.
Superb editing by Dino Jonsater clicks back and forth between the mid Sixties and the point in the Eighties when Wilson met Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), the woman who would become his second wife; transitions between time periods often feel abrupt for a second or two, cutting short a scene we’re still involved in, before the rightness of the leap becomes clear.
Wilson meets Melinda in a car dealership where she’s a salesperson. Clearly taken with her on first sight, he makes some uncomfortable emotional revelations before she even knows the older man flirting with her was a Beach Boy. Before he can ask her out, his handlers have stepped in: Aggressively chatty Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who we’ll later learn is Wilson’s personal physician and legal guardian, whisks him away. When the two do start dating, Landy is there either in person or by proxy, in the form of a “bodyguard” who reports back to him. Banks is as keenly alert as an animal sensing predators when Landy summons her to his office, smarmily explaining his role in Wilson’s recovery, the importance of the medications he prescribes, and his need for her to report to him the details of their time together.
We meet Dano’s version of Wilson just as he’s asking for permission to stay home while the band tours in Japan. “I can take us further … at home,” he insists, saying he has ideas for intricately produced music that will make the Beatles’ just-released Revolver sound like an also-ran. Soon he’s jamming a small studio with ace instrumentalists known as the Wrecking Crew, walking them through arrangements that sound wrong until they prove inspired. In a touching moment, drummer Hal Blaine reassures the wunderkind, reminding him that the musicians in that room have worked with every star there is, and that he’s knocking them all out. “Phil Spector‘s got nothin’ on you,” he says, knowing this is the biggest praise he could possibly offer.
But Blaine’s opinion only matters so much. If Wilson’s midlife was the property of a controlling doctor, he grew up in fear of an abusive father. In a scene that is transcendent until it is heartbreaking, Dano sits alone at a piano to play a new tune called “God Only Knows.” One of pop’s most aching love songs starts nervously, slowly finding its footing as the camera rotates around Wilson to see his unimpressed father on the couch behind him. “I don’t care for it,” says the man who will later sell Wilson’s music rights away for under a million dollars, congratulating himself on the deal because “five years from now no one is going to remember you or the Beach Boys.”
Dano’s reactions in these scenes contain a world of pain, with the songwriter’s incipient mental illness dovetailing with abuse and the failure of those closest to him to appreciate his gifts. Mike Love, his cousin and bandmate, second-guesses every step of Pet Sounds, wondering if lyrics are drug references and complaining that “even the happy songs are sad.” (He’s right on the latter point, but wrong that it’s a flaw.) But while Dano’s Wilson battles enemies both physical and internal, his eyes evince a continued belief in the music in his head. The movie does a fine job of using our familiarity with the finished product to electrify the hours of tedious retakes and overdubbing that were required to achieve it. It’s almost not fair to show Love complaining about Wilson’s perfectionist coaching of cellists in search of the perfect “chukita-chukita” sound for “Good Vibrations”: We already know he was right.
As Wilson falls in love with Ledbetter, Landy sees the threat and removes her from his life. (Giamatti’s controlling, calculating villainy is an inch shy of too thick.) Leave it to scholars of Beach Boys lore to evaluate the way screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner distill the long, complicated timeline in which courts eventually removed Wilson from Landy’s custody; since this film views Ledbetter as the catalyst of Wilson’s recovery (they married in 1995 and remain together), it emphasizes her role in gathering evidence of Landy’s misconduct. Cusack gives plenty of reason for rescue, with scenes in which the man’s desire for a healthy relationship is overwhelmed by a childlike fear of his domineering caretaker.
Unlike most music biographies, this one has no real interest in showing its hero performing for adoring crowds. It understands Wilson’s desire to “play the studio,” making perfect records instead of living off the energy of an audience. It never needs to explain how well suited the artist’s particular gifts were to the anxieties that crippled the man.
Production companies: River Road Entertainment, Battle Mountain Films
Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Director: Bill Pohlad
Screenwriters: Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner
Producers: Bill Pohlad, Claire Rudnick Polstein, John Wells
Executive producers: Ann Ruark, Jim Lefkowitz, Oren Moverman
Director of photography: Robert Yeoman
Production designer: Keith Cunningham
Costume designer: Danny Glicker
Editor: Dino Jonsater
Music: Atticus Ross
No rating, 120 minutesJune 3, 2015 at 2:19 pm #187247
Toronto Film Review: ‘Love & Mercy’
September 8, 2014 | 08:40PM PT
Paul Dano and John Cusack bring the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson to life in Bill Pohlad’s vibrant cure for the common musical biopic.
Senior Features Writer
A wonderfully innervating cure for the common musical biopic, Bill Pohlad’s “Love & Mercy” vibrantly illuminates two major breakthroughs — one artistic, one personal — in the life of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. Certainly more conventional than Todd Haynes’ fractured Bob Dylan collage “I’m Not There,” but miles removed from the cookie-cutter approach taken by so many other rock bios, this finely crafted split portrait should win over music nerds skeptical of yet another complicated life being reduced to a series of highlight-reel moments, and provided more mainstream auds are willing to take the trip, Paul Dano and John Cusack’s expert performances should attract an appreciative reception.
Alternating back and forth in time, Pohlad and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner eschew a long-winded biographical approach in favor of two temporally specific parallel narratives. In one, roughly covering the period from 1965-68, Dano plays Wilson as he resigns from touring, masterminds one of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest masterpieces, and finds his grip on reality slowly loosening. In the second, set in the 1980s, Cusack shows us Wilson as a broken, confused man under the pharmacological and legal thrall of manipulative therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), finding unlikely love with a Cadillac dealer named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who will later become his second wife.
Following a very brief, unfussy montage of the Beach Boys’ rise to ‘60s pop superpowers, we see Dano’s Wilson, still boyish enough to pass for a standard teen idol, suffer a panic attack on a flight. Deciding to bow out of the group’s upcoming Japanese tour, he sets up shop in a recording studio alongside L.A. session masters the Wrecking Crew, with ambitions to record nothing less than “the greatest album ever made.”
As he produces what will eventually become “Pet Sounds,” the film does well to capture Brian’s giddy sense of unmoored creativity as he brings in scores of nontraditional instruments and seemingly illogical arrangements to “play the studio” and one-up his erstwhile competitors Phil Spector and the Beatles. Yet he’s nonetheless nervous of what his bandmates, particularly the literal-minded Mike Love (Jake Abel), will think of his experiments when they return. Worse still, his cruelly disapproving father Murry (Bill Camp) lurks in the wings, and Brian begins to hear scattered voices in his head, a condition first alleviated and later exacerbated by his embrace of LSD.
Inhabiting a far different scene, Cusack’s fortysomething Brian dodders around his beachfront mansion under the ever-watchful eye of Landy and his “bodyguards,” who have ordered Wilson to cut all contact with his family and even micromanage his diet. Heavily medicated to treat what Landy had diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia, Wilson’s speech has been rendered into a series of seeming non sequiturs, yet Melinda seems to immediately understand him, recognizing a gentle soul desperate for connection, who retains a certain childlike trust despite years of exploitation.
On an aesthetic level, the two performances don’t really match. Dano looks, moves and talks with remarkable fidelity, his bushy bangs falling across his watery eyes, speaking softly through his chin whenever he isn’t thrusting his falsetto into the upper registers or hollering in moments of inspiration. Cusack hardly does any of these things and, aside from his loosely buttoned shirts and hands held rigidly downward, looks almost nothing like his real-life counterpart. Yet somehow this disconnect works, and Cusack’s avoidance of mimicry suggests a man who has lost nearly all lingering ties to the young man he once was.
Banks has the least showy of the film’s primary roles, but she does admirably subtle work with it nonetheless. In her first scene with Wilson, when their relationship is still merely that of customer and saleswoman, Brian begins to share all sorts of unprompted details about his jogging habits and the recent death of his brother Dennis, and Banks’ face registers a number of competing emotions, from alarm to compassion, all without dropping her professional smile. Gradually the two become a couple, much to Landy’s dismay. “I’m giving you unprecedented access here,” he says while attempting to lay insane ground rules for their relationship, and Melinda is later driven to help emancipate Brian from his cracked guardian.
Scenes of the elder Wilson also fill in a number of biographical details that the film’s nontraditional structure misses. In particular, Cusack’s dispassionate analysis of the sounds made by traditional spanking, versus those made by the beatings his father used to administer to him, is effectively horrifying.
Though best known for his long career as producer (“The Tree of Life” and “12 Years a Slave”), second-time-director Pohlad is quite confident behind the camera, using a number of potentially indulgent techniques to rigidly purposeful ends. For one, Wilson rarely occupies the center of the frame, lingering just slightly to the left or right, save for the rare moments when he attains emotional equilibrium. A 360-degree pan around a recording studio during the “Good Vibrations” sessions — with Wilson brothers Carl and Dennis idly tuning their instruments, cousin Love stewing in the control booth, and Brian all but hovering over two cellists — is wonderfully executed. Studio arguments between Love and Wilson are shot much in the style of Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s “Let It Be,” and a series of two-shots depict a contentious band meeting with clear yet unforced symbolism — in one shot, the assembled Beach Boys sit still by the shallow end of a swimming pool, their feet dipped in the water; in the reverse angle, Brian struggles to remain afloat in the deep end, his hair drenched and ragged.
Beach Boys fans will surely geek out on the “Pet Sounds” scenes, which see Wilson fussing over just the right amount of bobby pins to lay across the piano strings for the “You Still Believe in Me” intro, as well as the brief glimpses of Van Dyke Parks and Tony Asher. Photography is sharp, and ace editing eases the tensions between the two narratives, yet the real hero of the below-the-line crew is probably sound mixer Edward Tise, who creates elaborate mosaics of the sounds of silverware on porcelain, or the low thud of music bleeding through a soundproof room. (Indeed, the film’s depictions of drug hallucinations and psychological breakdowns are almost all sonically driven.) Atticus Ross’ haunting score reincorporates snatches of the Beach Boys’ effervescent melodies into something that sounds intriguingly similar to Animal Collective.
Toronto Film Review: ‘Love & Mercy’
Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 8, 2014. Running time: 120 MIN.
A River Road Entertainment and Battle Mountain Films production. Produced by Bill Pohlad, Claire Rudnick Polstein, John Wells. Executive producers, Ann Ruark, Jim Lefkowitz, Oren Moverman.
Directed by Bill Pohlad. Screenplay, Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner. Camera (color), Robert Yeoman; editor, Dino Jonsater; music, Atticus Ross; production designer, Keith Cunningham; costume designer, Danny Glicker; art decorator Andrew Max Cahn; sound, Edward Tise; sound designer, Eugene Gearty; re-recording mixers, Chris Jenkins, Eugene Gearty; assistant director, Thomas Patrick Smith.
Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Bill Camp.June 4, 2015 at 8:55 am #187248
Er…I’m not sure I can watch this.June 4, 2015 at 5:14 pm #187249
There are a couple of 4/4s from Michael Phillips from Chicago Tribune, Ann Hornaday from Washington Post, and Mick LaSalle from San Fransisco Chronicle!June 6, 2015 at 6:40 pm #187250
A very well done bio pic that might disappoint fans going into this thinking they are getting a Beach Boys biopic. It is more about the creative genius of the band Brian Wilson with the other “boys” pushed to the side. It is a really great character study of a man’s decent into madness caused by creative stress, parental abuse, and in his later years a mid life crisis of sorts. Paul Dano is one of our great young talents blowing me away ever since Little Miss Sunshine and There Will Be Blood and this will go down as one of his best performances along with those titles. John Cusack has been winning me over with this and earlier this year in Maps to the Stars. I haven’t been a huge fan of Cusack in the past but I thought he gave the older version of Wilson nice subtle moments and lovely chemistry with Elizabeth Banks who also is having a great year. Banks has always been a charmer and here she gets to use that in a very nice way as Cusack’s future wife. Even with those impressive performances, I have to say the stand out performance came from Paul Giamatti. With only about 4 or 5 scenes, he really gets under your skin and gives one of his best performances this decade so far. The costumes and sets are all great judging around time periods and keeping a clear distinction from both periods through the art and camera work. I loved the documentary feel to the recording sessions in the flashbacks but I wish that they didn’t film all of the flashbacks like that. That kind of cause a separation in my mind that we were really watching two different movies and it got too in the way sometimes for Dano’s performance to breath. Speaking of flashbacks, they were done well to a point. Lots of modern biopics love this new trend of out of place storytelling and flashbacks thrown in at random moments but this one balances them well but it still would have been nice to watch Wilson’s character progress into his madness. I really hope this movie’s sound design is remembered come award season because it is really interesting and creatively done to represent the mind and madness in Wilson’s head plus they really capture the Beach Boys feel with Dano doing his own singing. I don’t know if this was just an issue in my theater or if my eyes were deceiving me but the movie looked really dark even in scenes where the whole room was white. Watching trailers and clips on my TV and on my computer make me feel like that was just an issue in my theater but time will tell if that was an actual issue of the movie when it comes out on DVD. I would have liked to see more of the actual Beach Boys collaborations focused upon but it did make some sense for the story this movie wanted to tell and focus on Wilson’s life rather than the band’s journey. Overall, it is a great acting piece and character study with a few Beach Boys songs thrown in here and there but works. I just hope we will get a Beach Boys band biopic one day to go along with this one. Also, please remind your mom/dad/grandparent/family member that this is not a sing along. Please keep that to the car ride home. Some people in my theater did not get that memo. 4 starsJune 7, 2015 at 3:58 am #187251
I saw this friday night..and personally, its not worth a lengthy review.
Ill just sum it up by saying this is an awful film with the wrong feeling.
I lived through the beach Boys and this is embarassing in all ways.
the casting choices are beyond wrong…They are BAD….thank god for
the music…this film will be forgotten by july 1…
DJune 7, 2015 at 9:24 am #187252
I just hate it when I read so many rave reviews, go into a film thinking it’s going to be a great experience and come out disappointed.
There is an interesting film somewhere in Love & Mercy but it gets lost in the director’s disjointed attempts to translate cinematically the act of creating music. And it is much too long.
Paul Dano is very, very good as the young Brian Wilson. Elizabeth Banks does her best with a role that I just couldn’t believe for one second (a car saleswoman who falls in love with a psychotic? or is she a woman down on her luck who hooks a rich celebrity?). John Cusack was a problem for me. All those tics. If you have ever known a schizophrenic, particularly one who is overmedicated (as the film claims Wilson was), they are in a daze and unresponsive, not full of quirky tics. Granted, watching an actor walk around like a zombie is not that compelling and Cusack simply doesn’t have the screen presence to make a character like that work, but this seemed to me a dishonest choice to present Wilson that way, particularly as in the closing scene of the real Brian Wilson, that is how he actually is.
Paul Giamatti was dreadful. Landy may well have been the caricature Giamatti portrays, but he takes you out of the movie.
I liked the film to some degree but beyond Paul Dano, wasn’t impressed by it.June 8, 2015 at 2:13 pm #187253
The Dilemma of Paul Dano and John Cusack and the Best Actor Race:June 9, 2015 at 7:20 pm #187254
I loved half this movie….the Dano half and I found Cusak very disapointing. Dano will probably go supporting and should be considered the early front runner.June 9, 2015 at 10:29 pm #187255
Saw the movie this afternoon with almost no context. And holy goodness, this film is something else. Brian Wilson is an interesting figure, and this film does his genius justice. Even real-life Wilson has given the film credit for its accuracy. In every regard, Love and Mercy is an exceptional character study, and better than most biopics. It’s not quite great, but it has great parts. Technically speaking, the film is wildly impressive. The sound design is genius, the cinematography is quite clever, and the editing is gracefully handled. Wilson’s two halves mesh well, and are told with sensitivity and care. If I have any gripes, it’s that only Wilson’s character is adequately developed. Even when the future half of the film is told more from Elizabeth Banks’ perspective, she feels like a prop for Wilson’s salvation. But the film works anyway. Love and Mercy isn’t my favorite film of the year, and might not even be top ten by the end, but it is very satisfying and memorable.
Awards-wise, I say Dano lead, and Cusack supporting. We’re with Dano far more in his portion than we are with Cusack in his–as I said, Cusack’s portion is more Banks’ story, or at least as much Cusack’s as hers. Both are excellent, and if the film survives the year, they could be frontrunners. I don’t know about picture or director, or even screenplay, but nods for editing, cinematography, both sound categories, score, and song, all seem like realistic, and deserved possibilities.June 12, 2015 at 9:08 pm #187256
I thought this film was just great. Start to finish I was engaged, and part of the reason was obviously that I’m a fan of the Beach Boys, but it also was just a very well done film. The acting was superb, the editing was excellent, and though it balanced two stories, it felt totally cohesive to me. I had some issue with how unsympathetically certain individuals were shown, but that’s more of a script issue. Giamatti in particular deserves credit for making his portrayal more complex than what appeared to be on the printed page. Overall, definitely one of my top films of the year so far.
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