I gotta be honest here. I don’t like biopics. I’m not saying that all biopics are bad, movies like Goodfellas, The Social Network, Raging Bull, even last year’s The Imitation Game prove that a biopic can be a great if the story is consistently interesting. But here’s the problem with most biopics, the stories aren’t consistently interesting. Musical biopics seem to have it even worse almost always going with the rise-and-fall arc. I know they don’t just come with the stuff and that they are based on true stories, all I’m saying is that there needs to be a crack-down on biopics because most of them are just excuses to win Oscars.
Oops. Sorry for going off topic there. This is a review not a diatribe.
Love & Mercy is a musical biopic based on the life of Beach Boys founder and pop legend Brian Wilson. I am not familiar with The Beach Boys nor Brian Wilson for that matter, but from what I have read, the guy was a genius who did many great and ambitious things for pop music that people never really thought could be done at that time. Love & Mercy follows his life story of Wilson by using two parallel narratives, one taking place in the 60’s and following the story of a young Wilson played by Paul Dano, while the other tracking the life of an older, far more damaged Wilson in the 80’s, played by John Cusack.
Love & Mercy is a very good film that does quite well in straying away from most musical biopic conventions with its unconventional narrative structure. I suppose the right way to put it would be that it masks it’s clichés very well thanks to the unconventional way in which the story is told. The strongest point of the film for me is undoubtedly the acting. Paul Dano and John Cusack are excellent as the younger and older versions of Brian Wilson. Both of them bring a unique array of complexity to Wilson’s character. I have never really liked Paul Dano because he mostly plays the same character in every movie and to me he’s just another Michael Cera. But here he is wonderful as the young Brian Wilson, bringing both sensitivity and subtlety to his performance while perfectly capturing the boyish charm of his character as well. With Cusack it’s different, the Brian Wilson he plays is a broken man, but what makes his performance special is the perfectly balanced amounts of pathos and dry charm he’s able to inject into the role and how much he makes you care for his character that’s truly special.
Paul Giamatti also gives a fantastic supporting performance as Brian’s shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy proving yet again that there are very few character actors in business better than him. I also have to give major props to director Bill Pohlad and cinematographer Robert Yeoman for the way they shot the movie. The use of 16mm cameras to recreate some old footage gives the film a very realistic and unique feel and the cinematography too is simply gorgeous.
The pacing does struggle at times though, the film is not very well-paced and like all biopics there are things in the film that aren’t particularly compelling but have to be told about because they are part of the story. As a result, the film does get boring on many occasions but it is still a stylishly made, well-acted and engaging film that I would recommend you to see, especially if you’re a fan of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys.