Love & Mercy Review: Good Vibrations

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At this point, biopics are hardly groundbreaking cinema. Filmmakers with varying degrees of storytelling prowess tackle the lives of inspiring people and try to make them accessible to the audience. The genre has its Lincolns and its J. Edgars. Love & Mercy is thankfully closer to the former, simply in terms of quality.

Following two very significant periods of Brian Wilson’s life, we get not one but two excellent performances as the Beach Boy. Paul Dano portrays a young Wilson during the writing of one of the Beach Boy’s most celebrated albums Pet Sounds. Dano plays him with an almost naive artistic ambition, one that pays off for the history of music but not for Wilson himself. Slowly becoming estranged from his bandmates and siblings, the young Wilson tragically falls into the world of drugs as he’s creating what many call the best rock album of all time.

We also catch up with Wilson in the 1980s, where John Cusack plays him in the years that Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) used his stardom to take advantage of a drugged out Wilson. Though this was also when he met Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), his future wife who would help him respark his career as a musician.

Unlike other biopics that jump through time, these two stories compliment each other remarkably well. While Dano steals most of the ’60s story, it’s actually Banks who comes out of the ’80s story with the most impressive performance. Cusack is of course impressively committed, but its Dano and Banks that have most of the narrative heft thrust upon them. Cusack’s Wilson definitely feels like the end result of Dano’s, but it was all Dano who got him there. Don’t be surprised if Dano’s name gets thrown into the Oscar conversation in six months.

So like most biopics, Love & Mercy succeeds thanks to the commitment and will of its stars. By focusing on just two short yet significant periods of Wilson’s life, what could have become unwieldy as it has in other biographies was tame. The film doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, but it gets a lot right, and that’s enough. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty


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