Lost at Sea – ★★★★
Deciding to have two well known actors play different versions of the same character over various timelines is a gamble but thankfully with Love & Mercy it pays off in spades. Paul Dano is Brian Wilson at the height of The Beach Boys fame, while John Cusack tackles Wilson in the deep depression days under the harmful watch of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Each brings their own version of the Wilson they must play, yet it is a delicate double act between the pair to ensure the continuity and flow of the film is maintained.
We switch effortlessly between timelines. Paul Dano is Wilson shying from the spotlight of touring and wanting to solely spend time recording new songs in the studio. We see him coming to grips with the sounds and voices he hears in his head and watch as he battles to make some sense of it all. Cusack is much more mellow, ravaged by years of drugs and over medication he is lost at sea afraid of everything but really just in need of love and help. This comes in the form of Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a Cadillac sales woman who through a chance meeting comes into Wilson’s life and quickly becomes determined to get him the help he needs.
There is always a risk in movie biopics of falling into a simple linear story with the pivotal moments signposted well in advance. The story certainly isn’t linear yet it does have those slightly cringe moments of “hey I just discovered the chords for possible the greatest song ever written”. This said Love & Mercy has more in common with I’m Not There than Ray or Walk The Line, with it even recalling 2001: A Space Odyssey at times. Dano and Cusack are excellent, with Dano keeping up with his recent form and this is the best thing from Cusack in years. Giamatti is typecast as the creepy guy who shouts a lout and gets mad, but as Carly Simon would say nobody does it better.
The film brings to mind Frank, Lenny Abrahamson’s film from last year which was more a film about mental illness than anything else. While Love & Mercy focuses more on a real life events it shows quite clearly the effect of illness and how it is much more likely to hamper a person and bring them to their knees. It doesn’t glamorise the parties, drink and drugs – instead it paints a picture of a musical genius trying to fulfil his potential in spite of his illness not because of it.
The picture isn’t quite warts and all, the fact of his bad parenting is brushed over and their is no real explanation into what made his family disown him for so long. With a run time of two hours, enough is packed in and any more would have become a chore. Like Amy, the documentary about singer Amy Whinehouse released last week, Brian was so desperate for his father’s approval. We once again see the power of bad parenting and the untold damage it can cause.
A poignant look back at one of America’s greatest musicians, Love & Mercy has more depth than your average biopic. It shows in its own small way, the contribution Brian Wilson made to music and America. God only knows where we’d be without him.
Love & Mercy opens in Irish cinemas on the 10th of July 2015