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Film review: Love & Mercy gives Beach Boy Brian Wilson the double-biopic treatment

John Cusack and Paul Dano in a fine duet as both play the role of the tortured artist

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 6:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 6:02am

The biopic is a particularly cluttered arena in Hollywood; overstocked with by-numbers portraits of ‘inspirational’ real-life figures. But there’s something about Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy that transcends the format. The story of Brian Wilson, the innovative musical force behind The Beach Boys, it’s a fascinating insight into the maestro and his mind, bolstered by two very different interpretations – by Paul Dano and John Cusack.

Dano plays him as a young man, in the mid-‘60s, on the verge of conjuring his band’s masterwork, Pet Sounds. Scenes of him in the studio, orchestrating the unique soundscapes, are electric. But there’s more to it than mere muso masturbation. With the script deftly flashing back and forth, the film also takes us to the mid-‘80s, with Cusack’s Wilson a broken man, after mental health issues hinted at in the Dano section have left him spent.

This latter-set segment sees Wilson very much caught in a tug-of-war between his controlling therapist Dr Eugene Landy (an excellent Paul Giamatti) and his wife-to-be Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). True, the symbolism is hardly subtle – all the angelic Melinda is missing is a halo – and it can be guilty of lapsing into melodrama, but never to the point that it overpowers the narrative.

Better known as a producer for the likes of Terrence Malick and Sean Penn, Pohlad proves just as adept in the director’s chair, eliciting some fine performances from his cast. Rather like one of Wilson’s records, it’s a film of surprisingly effective layers, building towards a hugely satisfying crescendo.

Love & Mercy opens on September 24