The Beach Boys. They are all about those “Good Vibrations,” right? Well, in “Love & Mercy” there are not so many “Good Vibrations” when it comes to the life of Brian Wilson.
Well acted (minus Paul Giamatti), this slightly unsteady film mostly works thanks to the performances from Paul Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks. If only the screenplay didn’t have some laughable dialogue and the terrible casting choice of Paul Giamatti as Brian Wilson’s doctor, Dr. Eugene Landy. Overall, it’s worthy of a watch, even if Giamatti starts annoy you.
The film flips between two time periods of Brian Wilson’s life, the 1960s and 1980s. In the 1960s, young Brian Wilson (portrayed by Paul Dano) is on the road to success with The Beach Boys and his hit writing. Then, back in the 1980s, older Brian Wilson (portrayed by John Cusack) is suffering from mental health issues, but also falling in love with a Cadillac sales woman, Melinda Ledbetter (portrayed exquisitely by Elizabeth Banks).
As the viewer watches the film, they start to see the young Brian merge into his psychosis as he tries to craft his avant-garde masterpiece. His takes a toll on his family, friends and music. Then, in the 1980s, the viewer gets a taste of Brian Wilson’s terrible treatment under Dr. Eugene Landy (Giamatti). Landy tries to take advantage of Brian through over medicating him, controlling who he sees and making sure he knows his every move. This puts a strain on Wilson and Ledbetter’s relationship, as she can see that Brian is in a bad position with this doctor. However, there are legal issues that make Landy the primary caretaker, which means it is up to Ledbetter to figure out a plan to get Wilson out of his current condition.
John Cusack portrays the mental illness of Brian Wilson so realistically, making this a career best performance. You sympathize with him because the screenplay does a good job of being sensitive to the issues. Paul Dano also strikes a very high note as the young Brian Wilson. His transformation into his psychosis is frightening, that you forget that you are watching a portrayal of the actual life. Finally, Elizabeth Banks hits a huge home run as Melinda Ledbetter. This woman deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination (as do Cusack/Dano). She can do drama very well outside of her normal comedy routine. The only poor casting choice was Paul Giamatti. He goes way over the top as Dr. Eugene Landy. I am sure the guy was a nutcase, but Giamatti could have taken it down a notch.
The direction from Bill Pohlad (producer of “12 Years a Slave” and “The Tree of Life”) is quite fascinating. He takes an interesting approach to the film and turns it almost into a documentary feel at times. I just wish the screenplay by Oren Moverman (“I’m Not There.”) and Michael A. Lerner could have been solid throughout the whole film. There are some excellent moments that make the film shine and pay homage to Wilson’s wonderful music, but then there are times where you find yourself giggling at the dialogue (especially during one scene between Wilson and his brothers on the patio).
“Love & Mercy” is not one of the best films of the year, but it does feature some of the best performances of the year. Elizabeth Banks is my major standout, making this her best role to date. I would love to see more of her in these types of roles. If only Giamatti was re-casted, and the screenplay was polished. Rated PG-13.