(Part of the semi-regular movie-and-dinner thing between my wife, sister, brother-in-law, and yours truly. This was my sister’s pick.)
Love & Mercy reminded me of what I loved about The Beach Boys music, which isn’t an easy task. They were all over the part of my life that went from their debut album through “Heroes and Villains” in 1967. (I was 9-14 in those years.) They seemed pretty irrelevant after that, and it became easy to dismiss many of their early hits. They don’t seem to have the cred of a Creedence Clearwater Revival, another hit machine but one whose songs still resonate. It’s not that I decided The Beach Boys sucked ... not as long as “Don’t Worry Baby” was out there. But I forgot about them.
Love & Mercy wants us to know that Brian Wilson was/is a genius, flawed, “crazy”, beaten down by vicious dysfunctional relationships, but still a genius. And you know, I’m willing to accept that on the basis of “Good Vibrations” alone. But his genius reputation comes in large part from the album he never finished. That’s not quite fair ... if anything, the reputation of Pet Sounds has grown even larger over the years. All of the band’s post-Pet Sounds releases were disappointments at best, and the best of Brian’s solo work came in 2004 when he finally released a version of SMiLE. Thus, Love & Mercy gives us Brian the Genius during that time when, genius or not, his released output wasn’t up to snuff. (When Mike Love tells Brian the band needs to get back to making Beach Boys songs, i.e. hits, he seems crass in the face of genius, but you certainly understand his point.)
So, Love & Mercy isn’t about The Beach Boys of Endless Summer, the 1974 best-of that featured pre-Pet Sounds songs and sold a zillion copies. It’s about a troubled musical genius named Brian Wilson confronting his greatest musical frustration. He just happens to also be a Beach Boy.
And it’s pretty good. It’s true that Brian Wilson adds a level of interest, that all of the famous characters are fun to see, but in the end, this is just a standard tale of a troubled genius. I can’t decide, but the movie might have worked just as well if it was a fictional story about Joe Blow.
The two actors who play Wilson, Paul Dano and John Cusack, are both good, and they seem like the same person even though they don’t look much alike. Paul Giamatti probably thinks he’ll get an Oscar nom for Supporting Actor, and he might even deserve it, although the character is written in such a way that Giamatti had little choice but to play it over the top. Elizabeth Banks does what she can with the role of the goddess who saved Brian’s life ... again, she’s very good, but the part is pretty standard.
This sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, and I don’t intend that. It may be standard, but it’s good standard, and, to be honest with myself, it is better because Brian Wilson is the focus. 8/10.