Love & Mercy, the biopic of Beach Boy Brian Wilson, has the distinction of being the only movie I’ve ever seen that contains four fantastic performances from great actors and yet manages to fail completely in every other aspect of film-making. It’s a frustrating, grating look at the troubled musical genius that in all seriousness was so unpleasant to watch that I went home with a migraine
Love & Mercy comes at Wilson’s battle with mental illness from two intersecting time and plot lines. Paul Dano plays Wilson in the heyday of The Beach Boys, losing his grip while trying to compose musical masterpieces. John Cusack plays a fried, drugged-out Wilson in middle-age, controlled by his psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti) and making an unlikely romantic connection with his car saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks).
As, I said, the four main actors are extremely good (this is the best dramatic work I think Banks has done), but EVERY other aspect of this film is so excruciatingly off-putting that it’s hard to praise their work because I really despised the film overall. I understand the intent to show the descent and ascension from Wilson’s mental morass, but the constant intercutting doesn’t add up to a cohesive narrative. What most people know about Wilson’s battle is that he literally stayed in bed for three years, but the film relegates that period to a few lines of dialogue and random shots of showing him lying in bed interspersed at intervals. What broke him and put him into bed and what got him out are never actually examined in the film.
There are parts of Wilson’s descent into madness, especially the scene where he’s making crazy demands of his musicians while trying to record “God Only Knows”, that are almost laughable (to me largely because John C. Reilly pre-lampooned this film so well in Walk Hard).
It’s difficult to explain without actually making you sit through the film just how irritating the editing, directing, cinematography, sound and lighting choices are. I thought it might just be me, but I saw the film with my brother and he thought the whole thing was the visual equivalent of having someone draw a nail across a chalkboard.
I did learn more about Wilson and his struggles, and I admire his genius more for having learned that, but I think there was a fantastic film in this. The actors were more than up for it, but sadly everyone else was not.
4.0/10 (one point for each excellent performance)