“Love and Mercy” is an intense bio-pic about Brian Wilson, the genius behind the 1960s band the Beach Boys, and his downward spiral into mental illness.
Rated PG-13 “for thematic elements, drug content and language,” “Love and Mercy” is not light fare. Its focus on mental health, abusive therapists and parents requires of the audience a strong and merciful heart. However, the story is historically informative and courageous.
John Cusack plays a mentally and emotionally oppressed Brian in the 1980s and Paul Dano plays him in the peak years of his musical genius, the 1960s. Elizabeth is Melinda Ledbetter, the woman who helps the 1980s Brian rediscover himself through her “love and mercy.”
Paul Giamatti plays Dr. Eugene Landy, whose psychiatric care as legal guardian for Brian Wilson crossed the line into increasing psychological manipulation and financial abuse. Melinda used evidence of Landy’s fraudulent intentions to get the Wilson family to sue him. She and Brian then married in 1995 and had five children and Brian returned to musical creativity.
The flashbacks in the movie cover the period of the Beach Boys’ greatest success, leading up to Brian’s composition and recording of “Pet Sounds.” That highly acclaimed avant-garde album failed to gain market share, but has been accepted since its 1966 debut as one of the most creative concept albums ever recorded.
It is during this period in his career that we see Brian begin to lose touch with reality. Yet, just after “Pet Sounds,” Brian wins back the fans with the band’s most successful top single, “Good Vibrations.”
As the movie opens, the older Brian Wilson (Cusack) meet Melinda Ledbetter ) in a Cadillac showroom. As he opens up to her, his handlers take over and remove him from the scene. Over the course of their relationship, Melinda comes to realize that Brian is over-medicated by Dr. Landy.
The psychiatrist/guardian holds Brian under his control and never lets him out of his sight. As Melinda becomes suspicious and Brian starts to really sink, Landy pushes her away and uses his “shrink” knowledge to put her in her place, or so he thinks.
If you loved Beach Boys music at any point in your life (or grew up on it like I did) you will enjoy at least the score of this film and the historical background to the genius behind the songs.
But as a bio-pic alone, the film can stand on the merits of its story of a deeply wounded man who gifted us with so much beautiful music. The roll with the real Brian Wilson shown in a recent concert, still blessing us with his music. Perhaps you will, as I did, go home and turn on “Pet Sounds” after this film.