Paul Dano and John Cusack star in Love & Mercy as Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys. Dano plays the young version of Wilson as he teeters on the brink of a metal breakdown during the development of the influential album Pet Sounds. Cusack’s role is of the aged Wilson that is still caught in the grip of his illness and trying to escape it and those around him.
I am both a Paul Dano fan and a Beach Boys fan, especially in regards to Pet Sounds. So, I was biased going in to this film from the onset. Part of the reason I enjoyed Love & Mercy so much is the same reason I enjoy “Pet Sounds”, it challenges my thought process on life and forces introspection. This album contributed to my psyche and I feel this film adequately conveyed Wilson’s vision. The opening line of the movie passes by so quickly you might miss it. Paul Dano, as young Brian Wilson, says,
Sometimes it scares me to think where it’s coming from, you know?
there’s someone else inside there, not me.
This haunting intro sets the stage for an exploration into Wilson’s insecurity, depression, and mania. Brian Wilson challenged convention and popular thought at the peak of stardom with “Pet Sounds”. His writing on that album is an attempt to find meaning and to bring the music in his head to life. The film itself is not revolutionary, but it accomplishes a retelling of a troubled man in a complicated situation creating some of the most prolific music of all time.
The all star cast comes together to tell an engaging and heartfelt story. Paul Dano leads the way with the look of a young Wilson, along with bringing a convincing voice. There are definitely a few cornball scenes and over-simplified explanations for what must have really happened, but the essence of the story is carried through from past to “present”. The casting choices for the bandmates are also on point, if you look at the album “Pet Sounds” that is. Who ever conducted the casting did a spectacular job.
The soundtrack, composed by Atticus Ross, adds a jarring and unnerving accent to Wilson’s inner conflict. Bringing the viewer deeper into the evolution of Wilson’s disorder. The blend of ambient beach boys medleys creates a haunting background throughout the film. The combination of Ross’s soundtrack and the “Pet Sounds” studio tracks make this an acoustically stimulating experience.
My favorite aspect of this film is the recreation of the studio experience. Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman succeeded in creating an immersive and retelling of the studio experience, based off of the actual tapes from within the studio. The fact that you can listen to the tapes yourself and hear the same dialogue and creative exploration significantly adds to this films authenticity.
Directed by: Bill Pohlad
Cinematography: Robert D. Yeoman
Written by: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Music by: Atticus Ross
Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Runtime: 2h 1m
Genre: Biography, Drama
Distributed by: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions