Thursday, May 26, 2016

Love & Mercy

Directed by Bill Polhad and screenplay by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner from a story by Lerner, Love & Mercy is the story of the Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson told in two parallel narrative that focuses on Wilson in the mid-1960s where he was considered an eccentric but gifted music genius and in the late 1980s as a shell of his former self under the abusive of his therapist until a Cadillac saleswoman saves him. The film is an unconventional bio-pic that explores Wilson’s rise and descent into madness and mental illness and later be saved when he is at his most vulnerable as Paul Dano and John Cusack play the role of Wilson in the 60s and 80s, respectively,. Also starring Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti. Love & Mercy is ravishing and touching film from Bill Polhad.

The name Brian Wilson isn’t just synonymous with not music that would stand for eons but a man who was gifted yet troubled where he would succumb to mental illness and depression only to re-emerge a survivor and an icon. The film is about not just Wilson’s time in the mid-1960s where he would create the landmark album Pet Sounds as well as his attempts to make the album Smile. It’s also about the man 20 years later as he is under the control of therapist until he falls for a Cadillac saleswoman in Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) who would later become his savior. All of which is told in a parallel, back-and-forth narrative style that reflects on Wilson’s mental descent in the 1960s as well as emerging out of that dark cloud of abuse and confusion in the 1980s.

The film’s screenplay by Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner create this narrative that plays into the highs and lows that Wilson would endure as a co-founder of the surf rock band the Beach Boys who were considered the American rivals to the Beatles in terms of creating top-notch pop songs. The film does give a brief insight into the Beach Boys’ rise where the bulk of the 1960s narrative begins with Wilson’s breakdown in an airplane that would ultimately keep him out of the road. Being grounded, Wilson would find a sanctuary at the studio where he would have all of the time in the world to create songs at his own pace while would wait for the band to return from touring to contribute vocals. That strand in the narrative shows not just the exuberance that Wilson had but also the emergence of his mental descent which was due to a lot of things such as drugs as well as his strained relationship with his father Murry (Bill Camp). The script also reveals the tension between Wilson and the band that ultimately led to the shelving of Smile.

The 1980s narrative which would inter-cut with the 60s narrative shows Wilson as a middle-aged man where it begins with him looking for a car to buy where he would meet Ledbetter who has no clue the man she was talking to is Brian Wilson. Yet, she somehow finds herself going out with Wilson, despite the presence of his therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), where she gets to know the man and see someone who is a good person but also in need of help. Especially as he had been disconnected from his family including two daughters, his ex-wife, his mother, and his band that includes his brother Carl and cousin Mike Love under Landy’s supervision as Ledbetter gets to know more of the real Wilson but also observe what Landy does. One key scene involves Ledbetter coming to Wilson’s home to bring food where she hears Landy screaming at a heavily-medicated Wilson during a songwriting session as Ledbetter learns from Wilson’s maid Gloria (Diana Maria Riviera) about the extent of Landy’s abuse. It’s a key sequence in the film that would have Ledbetter take a stand no matter what kind of dirt Landy could dig up on her. Though there are a few dramatic liberties that Moverman and Lerner do for dramatic reasons, they don’t stray too far from the real story nor do anything to exaggerate things other than show a very fragile man in need of saving.

Bill Polhad’s direction definitely has an air of style as it play into not just the world Brian Wilson was in but also in somewhat Hellish-existence he was living in under Dr. Landy’s abuse. Due to the film’s complex narrative, Polhad definitely aims for different visual styles as it relates to tone of the times as well as Wilson’s own state of mind. The 1960s narrative definitely owes a lot to style in terms of its usage of different film stock which help play into the Beach Boys rise and Wilson coming into his own as a producer and songwriter. Many of the compositions are quite simple in its usage of close-ups and medium shots where it would play into what Wilson is doing as he hears ideas in his head that would unfortunately morph into voices of doubt from his father and cousin Mike (Jake Abel). There is a bit of usage in the hand-held cameras yet Polhad prefers to keep things simple while also create elements that play into Wilson’s encounter with psychedelic drugs that were helpful at first only to turn on him towards his mental descent. The 1980s narrative has Polhad go for something much simpler but also with a look that is a bit more polished as it play into a world that is sort of modern but one that Wilson seems detached from.

While many of the compositions are a bit more detached in some aspects as it relates to Wilson’s mental state, it does play into a man trying to get back into the world through Ledbetter. One sequence in which Ledbetter spends the night with Wilson has this unique tracking shot where Wilson becomes paranoid that someone is watching as he begs Ledbetter to leave but still be with him as it is a heartbreaking scene that shows how scared Wilson is. Another sequence in the film’s third act is this strange montage that has the older Wilson confront his past in flashbacks and hallucinations as it relates to the voices in his head where the two Wilsons do see each other as it play into what he lost and what he could gain. Overall, Polhad crafts a mesmerizing and riveting film about the life of Brian Wilson through all of its trials and tribulations in two different time periods.

Cinematographer Robert Yeomen does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography from the way many of the Californian location exteriors look to play into that sunny environment that inspired the music of the Beach Boys to some of the lush interiors inside the recording studios and the look of Wilson‘s two homes in the 80s that has this very lovely but unsettling look. Editor Dino Jonsater does brilliant work with the editing as it does play into the film‘s unique narrative style with its smooth transition cuts as well as some stylish montages and other cutting styles to play into some of the exuberance and dark moments in the film. Production designer Keith P. Cunningham, along with art directors Andrew Max Cahn and Luke Freeborn and set decorator Maggie Martin, does fantastic work with the home Wilson had in the 60s with its piano on top of a sandbox and the recording studios as well as the homes he had in the 1980s that are very sparse but also empty. Costume designer Danny Glicker does wonderful work with the costumes from the look of the 1960s clothes that many wear to the more casual look of the 1980s with the exception of the clothes that Ledbetter wore.

Makeup effects designer Tony Gardner does nice work with the look of some of the characters in the way they evolved in the 1960s as well as the comical yet terrifying look of Dr. Landy. Visual effects supervisor Luke T. DiTommaso does terrific work with some of the film‘s visual effects as it relates to Wilson‘s first acid trip that play into his desire for a new sound and some of its purity as well as a flashback sequence that relates to the story about how his father damaged his right ear. Sound designer Eugene Gearty and sound editor Nicholas Renbeck do excellent work with the sound in the way Wilson would hear things including a dinner sequence that would scare him as well as the more sparse moments during the scenes in the 80s where Wilson tries to deal with his mental state. The film’s music by Atticus Ross is incredible as it is largely a mixture of ambient sound textures as well as a collage of the music of the Beach Boys as their music is prominently featured along with a new song by Brian Wilson and other music that is played on the film from Dusty Springfield, the Moody Blues, Kenny G, and Heart.

The casting by Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee is great as it features some notable small roles from Oliver Polhad as the adolescent Brian Wilson in the flashback sequence, Morgan Phillips as Dr. Landy’s son Evan who watches over Wilson and Ledbetter during a boat trip, Erik Eidem as one of Wilson’s caretakers in Doug who becomes concerned of Dr. Landy’s treatment of Wilson, Joanna Going as Wilson’s mother Audree in the film’s flashbacks, and Diana Maria Riviera in a terrific role as Wilson’s maid Gloria who would help Ledbetter in saving Wilson. Other noteworthy small roles as members of the Wrecking Crew session players in Teresa Cowles as bassist Carole Kaye, Gary Griffin as keyboardist Al de Lory, and Johnny Sneed as drummer Hal Blaine along with Mark Linett as engineer Chuck Britz, Jeff Meacham as Pet Sounds lyricist Tony Asher, and Mark Schneider as Smile lyricist Van Dyke Parks as they play into the people who are in awe of Wilson’s gift as an artist.

Nick Gehlfuss and Graham Rogers are terrific in their respective roles as Beach Boys members Bruce Johnston and Al Jardine who both express a bit of reservation into what Wilson is doing. Bill Camp is excellent as Wilson’s father Murry who isn’t keen on what his son doing feeling it is straying from the formula as well as being this domineering figure that would continuously haunt Wilson for much of his life. Brett Davern is superb as Wilson’s younger brother Carl as one of the few who likes what his brother is doing while becoming concerned for his mental state of mind. Kenny Wormald is fantastic as Wilson’s youngest brother Dennis who likes what Wilson is doing while having a few reservations about its commercial prospects. Erin Darke is wonderful as Wilson’s first wife Marilyn who expresses concern about her husband’s mental state as well as trying to form the family that he would unfortunately become estranged to.

Jake Abel is amazing as Wilson’s cousin/Beach Boys vocalist Mike Love who expresses concern of not just what Wilson is doing musically but also for the fact that Wilson is straying from what made their music so popular. Paul Giamatti is marvelous as Dr. Eugene Landy as Wilson’s therapist during the 1980s who is trying to take care of him but his methods become abusive where he would even try to threaten Ledbetter as it’s a monstrous performance. Elizabeth Banks is phenomenal as Melinda Ledbetter as the woman who would become Wilson’s second wife as this former model-turned Cadillac saleswoman who befriends Wilson only to fall for him where she would also be the person that would save him and get back in touch with what was good in the world.

Finally, there’s John Cusack and Paul Dano in outstanding performances as Brian Wilson where both men provide unique aspects to the man. As the middle-aged Wilson in the 1980s, Cusack displays that sense of confusion and anguish into a man lost in a haze of medication as well as trying to find some good despite the paranoia he carries as it relates to Landy. As the young Wilson in the 1960s, Dano provides the exuberance to someone who realizes the power of his creativity as well as an innocence that he would eventually lose due to drugs and demons. Both Cusack and Dano create something that allows so many layers to the Brian Wilson myth but also ground it with a humanity and fragility that nearly destroyed the man.

Love & Mercy is an incredible from Bill Polhad that features the amazing dual performances of John Cusack and Paul Dano as Brian Wilson. Featuring an inventive narrative by screenwriters Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman, a ravishing score by Atticus Ross, and Elizabeth Banks’ graceful performance as Melinda Ledbetter-Wilson. It’s a film that doesn’t play by the rules of the bio-pic genre while creating a unique study of a man/artist struggling with demons and his desire to create great music. In the end, Love & Mercy is a magnificent film from Bill Polhad.

© thevoid99 2016


Brittani Burnham said...

Great review! I loved Paul Dano in this. I think he deserved an Oscar nomination, I was wish he would've made the cut.

thevoid99 said...

I totally agree on this. In fact, I think the film should've gotten more love. Not just Dano's performance which was severely overlooked but also John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks where the latter really shined as Melinda Ledbetter. I think that was the best performance that she did as she that scene where she really pissed off Dr. Landy is her being awesome.

Unknown said...

The storyline with Paul Dano was incredible, but I felt that the John Cusack half felt a little too Lifetime-ie for me. It was okay.

thevoid99 said...

@Courtney Young-I can understand your reservations with the Cusack storyline but it worked for me as it said a lot about Wilson's mental state. After all, this is the Beach Boys film that people should see instead of those 2 other made-for-TV movies that were made several years ago which were bad.