Love & Mercy
Starring Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti,
The moment Love & Mercy goes from a moderately interesting film occurs gently. Here I thought the musical biopic had sung its last note, then producer turned director Bill Pohlad offers up something systematically different by way of the editing room and perfect casting. The real strong point of Love & Mercy is the trio of performances in the present day segment of the film. It’s both a career high point and resurrection for Cusack (Maps to the Stars). Banks (Hunger Games, Pitch Perfect) delivers the best performance of her career, while Giamatti (Cinderlla Man, Sideways) returns to greatness in a tyrannical supporting gig. The things we never knew about The Beach Boys explodes from the backdoor of history onto the big screen with compelling vibrations.
They officially became The Beach Boys in 1961, formed and grounded by Brian Wilson the oldest of three Wilson brothers. Joined by their cousin Mike and friend Al, they became an iconic musical sensation. The lyrics and the musical arrangements came from the genius mind of Brian (Dano) who eventually stopped touring and stayed back home in California to work on writing and creating music for the band. After their success dwindled, Brian in his middle age (Cusack) sought psychological treatment. Dr. Eugene Landy (Giamatti) would become his legal guardian, administering an unforeseen amount of pills to keep Brian nearly sedated and often isolated. Melinda Ledbetter (Banks) would come into Brian’s life when he wandered into a Cadillac dealership looking for a new car.
Like the better musical biopics, you don’t have to know anything about The Beach Boys or even like their music to appreciate Love & Mercy on a cinematic storytelling platform. Many biopics use the style of telling both the origin and the present day story through intertwining the two narratives with careful editing.
Banks shedding both the franchise anchor and thankless comedy roles for a well-defined central character that becomes the films backbone.
Ray was another good example of this technique and thankfully director Pohlad understood how to make that work here. It creates a great juxtaposition between what Dano (There Will Be Blood) is doing and basically what’s lefts of Brian when Cusack fills the shoes. There is a memorable moment of the younger Brian daydreaming on the hood of a car that visually explains how he received much of his inspiration. In one segment of the film where Brian is at odds with Mike (Jake Abel), over the departure from “The Beach Boys sound” into something completely different (Pet Sounds album); I felt like the narrative could be an allegory for what’s happening in cinema today. Brian would be the ambitious and creative indie filmmaker, while Mike represents the mainstream, business oriented studio, “let’s repeat the formula we know works”.
Cusack really manages through body language and hyperactive jerk movements to portray the unwinding of his character’s predicament. Giamatti is scary in a cookout scene where his control freak behavior is finally on full display for Melinda. However it’s Banks shedding both the franchise anchor and thankless comedy roles for a well-defined central character that becomes the films backbone. She might give the best performance based on a stare-down, in a fierce scene with Eugene violently beating on her office door. She finally swings open the door, after enduring revolting language; heels planted, hair completely perfect, and without a word… as they say back home, “gives him a look that would knock you through the floor”. After the aggressive party leaves the dealership, her boss asks if she is ok and what she is going to do next. She smiles and says, “I’m going to sell some Cadillac’s.”
Beach Boys exposed and Oscar worthy performances from Banks, Cusack and Giamatti.