Film Review: Love and Mercy

Tuesday 5 January 2016 by

Love and Mercy, Film, The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti

Starring John Cusack and Paul Dano, Love and Mercy tells the story of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson with both actors playing Wilson at different periods of his life. This is not your standard cradle-to-grave biopic telling the story of his life, or even that of The Beach Boys, but a film focusing on a very specific and significant aspect of his life. It’s more of a memoir on film.

The film tells the story of Wilson’s struggles with mental illness with Dano portraying him in the sixties when it, seemingly first surfaced, and Cusack playing him in the eighties when he met his second wife and broke free from people trying to control him.

First off, let me start by saying that I do not understand why this film seemed to fly so under the radar, it deserves so much more. Save for a small montage sequence in the opening few minutes designed to establish that this is not the story of the band’s climb to success, the film avoids biopic clichés and sticks to telling a very specific story. It’s this conciseness that serves the film so well and allows it to be so involving. The cast is top notch; the script sharp – skillfully weaving between tender and tense, the direction unobtrusive and atmospheric, and then there is the sound production which is, frankly, outstanding. If you have a surround sound system available to you when viewing this film, use it, your viewing experience will be all the better for it. It goes beyond merely creating atmosphere and becomes a tool that draws you into an overwhelmed mind.

The parts of the film depicting Wilson’s life in the sixties focus mostly on the making of the album Pet Sounds, which upon release was not observed with the high respect it has now. The studio scenes are a real high point of the film, evoking the complexity of Wilson’s skill and working process. Paul Dano, as always, gives an outstanding and highly controlled performance that never veers towards over-the-top or clichéd. With awards season underway I have no doubt that he will be a shoe-in for some well-deserved recognition.

The scenes in the eighties open with Wilson meeting his second wife, Melinda Ledbetter, at a car dealership and focus on the early stages of their relationship during which Melinda (beautifully and sensitively played by Elizabeth Banks) realises all is not as it appears and that his private caregiver, Dr Landy, played to sinister and unnerving excellence by Paul Giamatti, is more controlling than caring. What’s so effective about these scenes is how constrictive our perspective is and the way it draws viewers into the closed off world the characters are in. When Ledbetter decides to intervene the camera sticks with Banks, this is not a big intervention story but the story of two people and their perspective of the events that unfolded around them.

This may well be one of the best biopics of the past ten years. As it is not the story of The Beach Boys, I’m not sure if it will draw in new fans but it is certainly an interesting and enlightening account of the life of one of the world’s most intriguing and talented musicians filled with fantastic performances that all film fans can enjoy.

Rating, Four, Review


Nerissa is a writer, mummy and rather proud geek living in the countryside. In between playtime, cuddles and fun times she loves to read, knit, bake and write Young Adult and children’s fiction.

1 Comment

  1. Ana Hellewell

    Paul Dano is so wonderful in this film. Greatly nuanced performance from him. Not hurt by the physical similarities either.

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