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Review: 'Love & Mercy'

Paul Dano and Elizabeth Banks amaze as lovers under observation by an all-controlling doctor
BAD VIBRATIONS: Paul Danno plays a psychologically distressed Brian Wilson in 'Love & Mercy.'

My brother knew Dr. Eugene Landy's son, Evan, so I met Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys at his house during the events seen in the first-rate biopic Love and Mercy, all about the days with the famed musician was immobilized by emotional problems and hired a 24/7 therapist to escort him. The Malibu scenes of the film look like the real thing.

What made a stronger impression than getting a very wary handshake from the supposed host, was the way the Landys made themselves at home, right as depicted here. During my short visit, I never saw anything as sordid as the business with Landy (Paul Giamatti, bewigged and right on the nose) rationing Wilson's hamburger, as the musician responsible for so many celestial songs whined for food. Many therapists in Southern California plied Landy's trade—you can go back as far as Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye (1953) to encounter them in fiction.

If Wilson in those days looked like anyone, it was Ed Begley Jr., and one has to ignore the physical wrongness of John Cusack cast as the older Wilson. Wilson lost a ton of weight, but was he ever that lean? Cusack never breaks the Tropic Thunder rule, too well known to quote here, but there are moments where you can catch him acting very hard. Given Cusack's recessiveness, Elizabeth Banks turns on the Klieg lights all the way. She plays Wilson's rescuer, Melinda. If you ever thought there was something even slightly special about Banks, you'll find her irresistible as an open, sweet, alluring soul, with a good spine on her.   

Especially fine in Love and Mercy is the expert sound-mixing, which drops us into the mind of Wilson, in all it's ecstatic and terrifying glory. We're right there as the madcap genius pieces together "Good Vibrations" with a group of studio musicians—we see the iridescent shards before they become a stained glass window. Using hand-held camera, director Bill Pohlad convinces us that we're present at the creation. Paul Dano's scarily good impersonation of this much-bullied musician is one of the best performances of the year. I hope it'll ensure a revival of Wilson's lesser known music, so influential to the late period Beatles, and that also it will serve as a warning to those who trust their therapists too much.

Love & Mercy

PG-13; 120 Min


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