Posted under: Reviews
I can't say that I've ever been too huge on the biopic genre, with the film's never quite tending to pique my interest. So, it's always welcomed when a film in the genre takes me by surprise and shows me just why and how biopics, and even cinema for that matter, can truly be good. It's all about Love and Mercy.
The film tells the story of musician Brian Wilson, the mind behind the hit 60's band The Beach Boys - also one of the greatest artists in the industry, whose talented remained underrated and underappreciated for years. Using Love and Mercy as a device to drive the story, director Bill Pohlad shares Wilson's harrowing struggle and beautiful talents with the world. The title itself references one of the singer's greatest hits. The film lives up to the gravitas and acclaim of the single Love and Mercy and honours Wilson well, as it also does the art of cinema. This is clearly a passion project, for both the soul of The Beach Boys but the industry of music and that of film too.
This is a game of two shadows. On one end, it's 1960 and we have a young, flourishing Brian Wilson (Paul Dano), churning out track after track for his masterpiece album Pet Sounds. Jump ahead twenty years and the other end of the story sees an older Wilson (John Cusack), barely functioning having lost his psyche, drugged on severe overdoses of medicine and now under the scrutiny of Dr. Jean Landy (Paul Giamatti). With the former, we begin to see Wilson's inner demons emerge as he begins to obsess over his music and impressing his father and family, with his album beaten on by his cousin, driving him to a severe mental breakdown whereas the latter is already in this living hell, trying to escape after meeting and falling for Melinda Ledbette (Elizabeth Banks) - a car saleswoman that tries to save him from the clutches of the cruel "care" of Dr. Landy.
There's a profanity to the clashing, conflicting halves of this story. It's almost as if it's two different people completely. Pohlad's love letter to Wilson, like the musician himself, is ingenious, a little unusual at times but all whilst being a work of true genius. This is something not recognised for its potential, only to soar up as an unexpected masterpiece - all kind of like Wilson's music. The transitioning from Dano's era to Cusack's is seamless; the contrasts so poignant and each actor, each story bouncing off the other and strengthening both sides of the picture.
Each actor does a remarkable job as their corresponding iteration of Brian Wilson. John Cusack has the more layered, more engaging story whereas Paul Dano has the stronger, more beguiling performance. Both Cusack and Dano give Oscar-calibre, high quality performances in their own right and really inhibit the skin and, more importantly, the troubled mind of Wilson. The former is already broken, hanging on with what little hope is left, but the latter is a revelation; only just breaking, only just beginning to lose it. We empathise with both actors and get invested into both personalities of the character. It's not hard to imagine the two as the same person, yet it's as if they aren't. The resemblance with Wilson is uncanny for both actors, especially in the case of Paul Dano.
The two are lifted even further by a truly magnificent supporting cast, of which includes Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti. We have one saint-like saviour and another, a manipulative monster. Sauve and chic, Banks is but a pretty face in Love and Mercy. Diverting from her usual, over-the-top comedic role, the actress finally gets an opportunity to really show off her acting talents and she truly shines. In a way representing the audience, you can feel her love and respect for Wilson but her fear for the endangerment of his life too. Giamatti is also stunning, another Oscar-worthy performance, as the quak Jean Lang. Manipulative and insane, you really begin to hate him and the actor is every bit as intimidating and fierce as the role demands.
This film itself, though, is intimidating and fierce. Clocking in at 121 minutes long, this is an intense film to watch. It's not so much that it's depressing or even tear-jerking, it's just never happy; it's quiet and powerful. The atmosphere Pohlad has created is so psychedelic and astounding. The colours and the sun-drenched world of Wilson's youth is intoxicating. The vibrant colours, the stylish outfits all give a strong 60's feel. In comparison, when Cusack is on-screen, the landscape is bruised and moody. The cinematography in this picture is ashtonishingly brilliant, with each shot so deliriously gorgeous and precise. The soundtrack accompanies this so nicely and the sound only heightens the experience - of course, mostly composed of The Beach Boys music, which I have now become rather fond of.
This is an unconventional, unorthodox biopic. The dizzying visuals and classy soundtrack gives breath to the phenomenal performances. Pohlad's unique style is eccentric and grandiose, but never too boasting and audacious. The script is a marvel. Right from the opening, this is a film that will compel and captivate. This isn't just an indie, this is an arthouse film and a brilliant one too. The biggest praise I could give Love and Mercy, however, is that it is a fitting tribute to Brian Wilson. It's a raw, honest look at his life and doesn't gloss up his harrowing struggle. This doesn't Hollywood-ise his life but instead sheds light on his suffering. It's tragic and tense but it's resonating and beautiful and highlights the work of a forgotten genius. Smart and affecting, this is the film he deserves.
About the Author
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.