‘I think I might be losing it…’
The idea of the tortured artist has turned into such a common popular culture trope that it has become almost an insult. In the case of Brian Wilson however it would be unfair to be anything other than sympathetic.
After growing up with an abusive father, Wilson moved from one domineering father figure to the next until he found respite and care from Melinda Ledbetter, a woman he met whilst buying a Cadillac and who would eventually become his wife.
Love & Mercy focuses on the recording of seminal album Pet Sounds, the original decline in Wilson’s mental health and his subsequent re-emergence with the help of Ledbetter. Director Bill Pohlad has worked as a producer on a number of acclaimed projects but Love & Mercy is only his second directorial project following on from his first feature film way back in 1990. On this evidence I hope we don’t have to wait as long for his next film.
Paul Dano and John Cusack do a brilliant job of bringing Wilson to life and Elizabeth Banks is typically natural as Wilson’s saviour Melinda Ledbetter. Dano may have become slightly typecast as an offbeat outsider but when he is this good it barely matters. John Cusack has made some poor choices in recent times but he is back on form as Wilson, evoking sympathy whilst also portraying the constant genius always bubbling under within Brian Wilson. Paul Giamatti’s scenery chewing villain is sometimes over the top, but by all accounts Eugene Landy was an odious bully who almost killed Wilson whilst the Beach Boys singer was under Landy’s care so perhaps Giamatti’s performance is valid.
Aside from the acting, it is a joy to hear The Beach Boys songs that feature on the soundtrack but even more impressive is the mixture of sounds that Wilson hears in head, a beautiful but frightening cacophony that perfectly captures the state of mind of a troubled trail blazer.
Love & Mercy is essential viewing for fans of The Beach Boys but the strong performances and compelling story ensure this is a film for everyone, regardless of musical preference.