21 July 2015

Love and mercy to you and your friends tonight

Within producer-turned-director Bill Pohlad's 2014 film Love & Mercy there is a solid drama featuring John Cusack as a mid-1980s Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame and Elizabeth Banks as the resourceful woman he meets in a chance encounter, who ends up falling in love with Wilson and rescuing him from the untender ministrations of a deeply manipulative psychiatrist (a menacing Paul Giamatti). This particular half of the film is sweet, affecting and engaging.

But there's also the other half of the film, featuring a typically standout performance from Paul Dano as the younger 1960s Wilson: a supremely gifted songwriter who drags the arch-traditional sound of the Beach Boys kicking and screaming into psychedelic modernity, in doing so earning himself a spot in the rock pantheon reserved for true geniuses. Dano's half of Love & Mercy is a cut above, and offers a truly compelling role.

The pressure of this musical responsibility fell on the shoulders of a complicated man, troubled by the unfeeling cruelty of his ruthless father and faced with the task of single-handedly competing with three of the most gifted songwriters of the 20th century in Messrs Lennon, McCartney and Harrison. It is Dano's musical and psychological journey from the top of the charts into drug-fuelled psychosis that sets the scene for, and is arguably a class above, the interspersed Cusack and Banks scenes.

Throughout there are plentiful glimpses of the Wilson studio genius, and the scenes with session maestros The Wrecking Crew primes the viewer for film festival screenings of the doco of the same name. And the film's take on the intra-band rivalries, with the bearded Mike Love demanding Wilson return to simplistic, deeply retrogressive surfer ditties to bring on the hit singles, brings back memories of the oft-used catchphrase of the Popdose website when discussing the Beach Boys: 'F**k Mike Love!'
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