Saturday, June 6, 2015

Love & Mercy [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (4 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (K. Jensen) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (E. Adams) review  

Love & Mercy [2014] (directed by Bill Pahlad, screenplay by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner) is probably the first feature film of 2015 worthy of Oscar consideration.  It's a biopic about Brian Wilson the creative genius behind The Beach Boys

Like perhaps a great many of their more superficial fans, I've always liked The Beach Boys for the sunny optimism of many of their hit songs.  However perhaps also like a great many of such more superficial fans, I didn't necessarily respect them or their music in the way that I respected The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Who (Tommy, Quadraphenia) and perhaps even The Doors.  In contrast to these "deeper" groups, The Beach Boys (or what I knew of them) felt like "popcorn," music to play when one was up / happy (or perhaps down and wanted to get out of the dumps and feel happier).

Well, of course, I had it all wrong.

First the The Beach Boys albums Pet Sounds (1966) [Amzn] and especially (!) SMiLE (left unfinished in 1967 and a version of which was released by Brian Wilson only in 2004) [Amzn] emphatically (!) prove that Brian Wilson was/is a true musical genius. 

Further, with the benefit of life-experience, it does not surprise ME much at all, NOW..., that the often impossibly optimistic songs that The Beach Boys were famous for were largely the product of a not particularly happy, indeed, at times very depressed, even troubled, Brian Wilson, who if not for the ENORMOUS commercial pressure resulting from the again ENORMOUS commercial success of  The Beach Boys' "happier songs" would have REALLY LIKED to go into "other (less manically happy...) directions" with his music.   It's ALL SO OBVIOUS ... now.

And so this film is about the very real (and quite AWFUL) suffering of Brian Wilson, in those years following The Beach Boys' initial success when Brian, AN INTROVERTED ARTIST (as opposed to a EXTROVERTED SHOWMAN) discovered that HE REALLY HATED TOURING but REALLY, REALLY LIKED COMPOSING ... and then REALLY EXPERIMENTING with what was BECOMING possible in the way of sound / music.

So the film portrays Brian Wilson at the two book ends of this terrible portion of his life, in 1966-67 (played in this period of his life by Paul Dano) as he was composing Pet Sounds (1966) [Amzn] and SMiLE (1967-) [Amzn] to the bewilderment / frustration / FEAR (for their financial fortunes) of his own band members / family -- remember that the group's original lineup consisted of brothers Brian, Dennis (played in the film by Kenny Wormald) and Carl Wilson (played in the film by Brett Davern) their cousin Mike Love (played in the film by Jake Abel) and friend Al Jardine (played by Graham Rogers), with the Wilson's RECORD PRODUCER dad Murry Wilson (played in the film by Bill Camp) looming large (and generally disapproving) in the background -- and then nearly 20 (!) years later in 1985 (played in this period of his life by John Cusack), two years after the tragic death of brother Dennis, when by chance he walked into a car dealership and met saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (played in the film by Elizabeth Banks) who eventually pulled him out of his two decades long often life-threatening depression / funk.  The two married in 1995.

It makes for one heck of a story, that's both "rarified" (to some extent Brian's was "Michael Jackson" territory) and yet _also_ profoundly "familiar" (at its most basic level, The Beach Boys have always been "a family business," with all the attendant pluses and minuses ... with LOTS of people who DID CARE but perhaps DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO CARE as Brian broke down ... So by the 1980s a lot of the professional help that Brian was getting was from a "Hollywood psychologist" named Dr. Eugene Landy (played in the film by Paul Giamatti) and Landy turned-out to be a real control freak / a-hole...). 

So this is a film that's certainly A MUST for those who loved 1950s-60s American pop music.  But it's ALSO a film that could be understood as simply a quite compelling family drama.  It's very well done, and a film that deserves (even SCREAMS for) attention come Oscar time this year.


Again for the 1950s-60s era pop-music lovers here, the recently/finally released documentary Wrecking Crew [2008] about the remarkable milieu of studio musicians living / working in L.A. in the 1950s-60s, many of whom Brian Wilson worked with during that time, could serve as an OUTSTANDING COMPANION PIECE to the current film reviewed here.

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