Uncovering the “highs” and lows of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s checkered career, director Bill Pohlad chooses an unconventional approach by focusing on two phases: the 1960s, when Wilson stepped back from high-visibility pop stardom to concentrate on composing, and the 1980s, when drug use, divorce and the messianic control by Dr. Eugene Landry (Giamatti) had all but ended his career. Bringing him back to some kind of centre, Banks plays a fortuitously encountered Cadillac salesman who succeeds in getting Wilson out from Landry’s orbit and back to the piano.
Dano and Cusack play the younger and older Wilson. Both give sensitive performances and although the dual axis approach is inevitably disjunctive, it also shines a light onto the many facets of a personality such as Wilson’s. The destructive and the creative, the family man and the genial isolationist are parts that he struggles to unite – and it’s when music appears as a unifying principle that the film really shines. The studio scene for “Good Vibrations” is a textbook rendition of brilliance and innovation, showing art at a wider level (and including Pohlad’s film) as one way for fragmented people to make sense of a fragmented world.
Love and Mercy | Directedy by Bill Pohlad (USA 2014) with Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks. Starts June 11
Originally published in issue #139, June 2015.