By Megan Bianco
All over La Jolla, and Wa’imea Bay, everybody is familiar with the Beach Boys’ classic singles. So it would be surprising that, excluding two mediocre TV movies from the ‘90s, a motion picture has finally been made on the famous surf-rock band (or rather on its main songwriter, Brian Wilson).
Possible biopics had been stuck in development hell since 1988, before Bill Pohlad’s feature Love & Mercy was greenlit in 2011. Finally, after succeeding on the festival circuit since last fall, music lovers and movie fans can unite to view the best biopic of 2015.
Switching off between the periods of 1965-68 and 1987-88, we see both young Brian (Paul Dano) at the top of his game as an artist and producer composing his masterpiece “Pet Sounds” and the sessions for the abandoned album ‘sMiLe,’ and middle-aged Brian (John Cusack) in his most reclusive, depressed period.
Throughout the film, the audience grasps the pressure and stress Brian was under while experimenting with his music, the abuse from his father and former band manager Murry (Bill Camp), his cousin and band mate Mike Love (Jake Abel) and his celebrity therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). In the background are his rocky relationships with first wife Marilyn (Erin Darke) and second wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks).
Fortunately for Beach Boys fanatics, there were no issues obtaining the rights to the band’s songs (as was the case with “Jimi: All Is by My Side“ last year), and the soundtrack of their singles and ‘Pet Sounds’ playing throughout the ‘60s segments is pure bliss. Once you get past the fact that Cusack looks nothing like Wilson and didn’t even color his hair to match his character, there’s a fine performance underneath. It’s obvious both he and Dano did their homework on Brian’s mannerisms and speaking patterns.
Giamatti and Banks also deliver during the ‘80s scenes, but the standout sequences really are in the past between Dano, Camp, Abel and Darke. Pohlad, originally a successful producer for over a decade with movies like “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) and “The Runaways” (2010), creates a beautiful montage of a genius who is also mentally lost and in need of a real friend that flows naturally and freely over the two decades.
Viewers who aren’t interested in classic pop music will still enjoy Love & Mercy, but fans of the Beach Boys and Brian, or love a good period piece — this one’s just for you.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.