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Review: Love & Mercy

June 5, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Love & Mercy PosterThrough outstanding performances from Paul Dano and John Cusack, who both portray Brian Wilson at two crucial moments in his career, Love & Mercy offers an excellent biopic of the legendary musical genius and Beach Boys frontman.  After premiering at TIFF, the film opens in limited release this weekend.

The film starts with flashbacks of Brian Wilson as a young man in the 1960s, suffering from increasing paranoia and untreated mental illness, while struggling to keep the band together and complete his elaborately arranged masterpiece, Pet Sounds.

This is punctuated by scenes in the 1980s when he is washed up and middle aged, receiving unexpected kindness from Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), while struggling to get his life back in order under the iron fist of his psychiatrist (Paul Giamatti).

Although running a little long at about two hours, director Bill Pohlad does a good job of showing two different sides of this iconic musician, with a double narrative that is nicely tied together through some impressive editing.  This stylistic choice allows Love & Mercy to mostly subvert the standard overview approach of some biopics, focusing more on individual moments from these two different eras, instead of just trying to show everything in between.

Paul Dano shines brightly here, delivering some of his finest work in a career filled with impressive supporting roles, and John Cusack easily gets his best acting showcase in years.  Both actors bring their own unique spin to this real life subject, the former perfectly depicting his intense genius as a young man, and the latter affectively displaying the quiet heartbreak of his middle aged years.  Together they deliver a pair of emotional and incredibly nuanced performances that work quite well on their own, while also playing seamlessly into each other, and it’s fascinating to watch the grace with which they pull it off.

Elizabeth Banks brings considerable empathy to her pivotal supporting role, and Paul Giamatti grippingly exudes a slowly increasing sense of creepiness throughout.  These uniformly brilliant performances are matched by a compassionate script, as well as commendable production design and impressive attention to period detail in the recording studios.  All set to a great soundtrack from Atticus Ross that nicely mixes together some of the band’s most famous songs, Love & Mercy offers plenty of “Good Vibrations,” and comes highly recommended for Brian Wilson fans.

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