Sunday, September 20, 2015

Video review: "Love & Mercy"

“Love & Mercy” is an unconventional biopic about an unconventional musician. Brian Wilson was a self-taught prodigy who composed Billboard Top 10 hits for the Beach Boys of increasing musical complexity, even as his personal life sank into a morass of drugs, harmful relationships and mental illness.

Director Bill Pohlad, a veteran producer stepping behind the camera, and screenwriters Michael A. Lerner and Oren Moverman, set the story in two distinct points in Wilson’s life, the mid-1960s and mid-80s, and cast a pair of different actors to play him. The performances don’t match, deliberately so, since they’re showing Wilson as he descended into his two-decade period of purgatory, and then trying to climb out of it.

Paul Dano portrays Wilson as a young man looking to break out of the mold of flighty songs about girls, surfing and cars – much to the consternation of his brothers, bandmates and controlling father, who just want the hits to keep on coming.

John Cusack plays him in early middle age, struggling to break free of his torpor and reenter the world, with the help of a tough-but-tender Cadillac saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks) who acts as his touchstone.

Serving as the anchor is Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), the Machiavellian psychiatrist who kept Wilson under virtual lock and key for years, deciding where he would go and with whom he would associate. As good as Giamatti was as the conniving manager in “Straight Outta Compton,” you should be aware it was his second – and second-best – portrayal of an infamous musical Svengali this year.

The movie really sings during the studio sessions where Wilson created the album “Pet Sounds” essentially in secret, using professional musicians instead of his siblings’ barely competent guitars and drums. Wilson is trying to replicate the sounds and voices he hears in his head, and funnel the burgeoning madness into what would become one of the greatest pop records of all time.

“Love & Mercy” is a stunning portrait of a man who made beautiful music while suffering a tragic existence. This discord is finely in tune.

Bonus features are agreeable, and are the same for Blu-ray and DVD editions. There are two making-of featurettes, “A California Story: Creating the Look of ‘Love & Mercy’” and “A-Side/B-Side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson.” There are also deleted scenes and a feature-length commentary track by Pohlad and Moverman.



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