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Love & Mercy - Film Review

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by Irenke Forsyth (subscribe)
A writer sharing travels, experiences, a love of festivals & events. Life is a journey and I hope to inspire others. Visit my blog at
Published May 27th 2015
The true story of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys
Set in Los Angeles, Love & Mercy is the story of a talented musician, singer and songwriter who rose to fame in the 60's, along with the band he co-founded. The Beach Boys' musical genius was Brian Wilson and the band consisted of brothers Dennis and Carl Wilson, cousin Mike Love and their friend, Al Jardine.

This film is a biography, but it does not endeavour to give every detail of Brian's life in two hours. Instead, it focuses on two periods - the creative making of the music in the 60's and the very personal mental health issues and recovery, due to the love of a special woman, in the 80's.

Moving back and forth between the two periods of time, it is clear where the movie is at as two different actors play the legend. Paul Dano (12 Years a Slave, Little Miss Sunshine) plays the younger Wilson in the 60's, while John Cusack (The Sure Thing, Being John Malkovich) plays the older man in the 80's.

Paul Dano Love & Mercy
Paul Dano as Brian Wilson
John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
John Cusack as Brian Wilson and Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter

We learn from the start that Brian Wilson is a perfectionist and that every bit of the music has to feel right and sound right in his mind. A journey of the process of a song coming together in a studio takes us to the core of this young genius, but it's only a few years before the sounds and voices in his head start to become a problem.

Nagging from band members not happy with a new musical direction away from the California culture of surf (the Pet Sounds album) and an abusive, dominant father are course for a mental breakdown. The drowning of brother Dennis in 1983 was also traumatic, as you would expect.

Snippets of the band's songs, such as Good Vibrations and God Only Knows, feature in this cinematic expose, but the music doesn't take over the whole film. The catchy odes to fun will live on. This true story is more about the voyage of an icon and the extraordinary personal cost of success.

Love & Mercy cast
The young cast

There was a dabbling in drugs, however, the downfall is more about his struggles with paranoia and the dark side. Enter therapist Dr Eugene Landy (played by Paul Giamatti - think Sideways, The Amazing Spiderman 2) and his influence leaves Brian in a state of bewilderment under powerful medication. At first, the doctor is helpful in getting him out of bed (after being there for a few years), off drugs and getting the weight off that he gained. At some point, the therapist got greedy and caught up in the fame and celebrity and took complete control over Brian, from the medication to his creative, financial and personal life, what he could and could not eat and who and who not he could see. There is an alarming scene where Wilson tries to eat a burger, and the so-called therapy made it hard when he first started dating Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks of 30 Rock, The Hunger Games), the car sales lady and supportive woman he later married.

Melinda's love and determination got Brian out of his virtual prison and away from the controversial psychotherapist, aiding in his recovery and bringing him back to life. They went on to raise five children and Brian continues to write and record. Love & Mercy is the title and song he wrote about what he didn't get in his early life. Not in a begrudging way, but in a generous way through his music, he wants to give to people who never had love and mercy. The real Brian performs this at the end of the film. It was a nice way to end it.

Brian Wilson
The real Brian Wilson

Some great stuff happened to Brian Wilson and some not so great stuff occurred. The film is light, fun and quirky in some places but a big part of it is very deep and heavy. It's not just a version of a rock star burning out, who either survives or doesn't. More complicated, this portrait had input and cooperation from both Brian Wilson and his wife, Melinda. It is the first time we have seen this glimpse of the man behind the chart topping hits, deep inside him and what drove him, and it will be a surprise to many.

I went into the cinema not knowing much about his life story at all. I came out educated and in awe of the woman behind the man. An unconventional courtship and a powerful story, this one is, and one that gives value to faith in love.

This movie will not be everyone's 'cup of tea'. It is a sensitive portrayal of a life and director, Bill Pohlad, hopes it gives us the ability to treat each other better. If you love the music of The Beach Boys and want to learn more, than I recommend you go and see it. A better understanding of his song lyrics will also be revealed through this motion picture.

It also stars Kenny Wormald (known for Centre Stage: Turn it Up and the Footloose remake) as Dennis Wilson, Brett Davern (Beautiful Ohio, The Pool Boys) as Carl Wilson, Jake Abel (Disney movie Go Figure, Angel of Death) as Mike Love, Graham Rogers (Struck by Lightning, Crazy Kind of Love) as Al Jardine and Bill Camp (Birdman, Lincoln) as father Murry Wilson.

Like The Beach Boys, this cast is full of numerous credits and achievements.

Rating: 3/5
Length: 120 minutes
Release date: 25th June

Images appear courtesy of Love & Mercy Facebook page & Roadside Attractions
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*Irenke Forsyth was invited as a guest
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Why? For a love of The Beach Boys
Where: In various cinemas
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