Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Movie with Abe: Love and Mercy

Love and Mercy
Directed by Bill Pohlad
Released June 19, 2015

There is almost always a story behind most of the greatest songs ever written. Musicians in general have a reputation for leading wild, unhinged lives that are reflected in some way through their art. The groups and the songs are remembered, but their crazy and unexpected origins are often forgotten. In “Love and Mercy,” which gets its title from a famous 1988 song, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys takes the spotlight, as his life is charted in two separate time periods, one of early eccentric success and another of a much later low point that threatened to undo all his accomplishments.

Brian is first introduced in the 1980s, played by John Cusack, sitting in a model car and flirting with saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). Brian is alluring and mysterious, and brushes off the fame he has amassed as unimportant and inconsequential, slowly becoming closer with Melinda. As she sees more and more of him, she notices the disconcerting and overbearing presence of his therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) which has put him into a permanent medicated state. Twenty years earlier, a young Brian (Paul Dano) writes some of his most well-known songs as signs of his eventual condition begin to emerge.

Telling Brian’s story by showing him at two very starkly different points in his life helps to illustrate the decline he experienced as a result of an illness that was never properly diagnosed, with a jump to schizophrenia permitting Landy to treat Brian however he saw fit. The two Brians seem like completely separate people, and it is almost as if they are two individual characters. As with many stories of decline, this film sags with its protagonist’s ups and downs, never achieving the dramatic potential it desires. The film’s strongest moments are when Brian makes a musical discovery and pens one of the many classic tunes best remembered by society today.

Cusack portrays Brian at a low point in his life, and he definitely seems like a broken man. The much more compelling performance comes from Golden Globe nominee Dano, who captures Brian’s brilliance and fuses it with his growingly insecure grasp on the world and reality. Banks is a standout in the cast as Melinda, the one true light in an older Brian’s life who helps ensure that he gets back on track. This film tells an intriguing story but hardly in the most compelling way, a decent ode to a great misunderstood man but not a true salute to his legacy.


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