Skip to main content

'Love & Mercy': Life of Brian

Published June 18. 2015 04:00PM

If you're a Beach Boys fan, you may know by heart the opening notes and sounds of many of the group's hit songs: "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "God Only Knows," "Good Vibrations," "Sloop John B" (each released in 1966). These and more began in Brian Wilson's brain. He apparently heard them as full arrangements.

That's the premise of the fascinating "Love & Mercy" biopic about Beach Boys songwriter and founder Wilson, who is still touring (Wilson, with Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin joining him, and Rodriguez opening, June 29, Mann Music Center, Philadelphia).

The Beach Boys, with Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, also tour (most recently, April 22, State Theatre of the Arts, Easton).

The Beach Boys' 50th anniversary reunion tour included Wilson, Love, Johnston and Jardine (May 17, 2012, Sands Bethlehem Event Center).

"Love & Mercy" is as unconventional a biopic as many of Wilson's songs and recording techniques. The film doesn't touch all of the timeline points nor tell a typical pop-rock music story as in, for example, "Great Balls of Fire!" (1989, Jerry Lee Lewis); "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978); "Walk the Line" (2005, Johnny Cash) or "Jersey Boys" (2014, The Four Seasons).

"Love & Mercy" gets inside Wilson's head. The film's composer Atticus Ross ("Gone Girl," 2014) samples Wilson compositions, creating a pastiche of cacophony.

You see the recording process, with great Los Angeles session musicians (profiled in the documentary, "The Wrecking Crew," 2008), for the aforementioned Beach Boys hits and more.

You hear a song begun with Wilson banging out a few simple, repetitive chords on the piano and building to a gorgeous composition inspired by Chuck Berry rock 'n' roll rhythm, Four Freshmen harmonies and Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" production.

The film's title reflects the storyline and editing approach of director Bill Pohlad ("Old Explorers," 1990; producer, "Brokeback Mountain," 2005; "Into the Wild," 2007; "The Tree of Life," 2011; "12 Years a Slave," 2013).

The screenplay by Oren Moverman ("I'm Not There," 2007, which used multiple characters to play Bob Dylan) and Michael A. Lerner ("August. Eighth," 2012) is based on the life of Brian Wilson.

The film bounces back and forth from the young Wilson (portrayed with uncanny authenticity by Paul Dano), the "Love" part of the title, to the older Wilson (played well, but a bit off because of a lack of facial resemblance, by John Cusack), the "Mercy" part of the title, as he's beset by emotional and drug-related problems, hounded by psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy (another astounding performance by Paul Giamatti) and backed by the steadfast love of his second wife, Melinda (a fine Elizabeth Banks), who, with the help of others, brings Wilson back from the brink.

"Love & Mercy" uses a mix of re-created footage (1962 "Surfin' Safari" and 1964 "Beach Boys' Concert" album covers photo shoots) by director of photography Robert D. Yeoman (Cinematographer, director Wes Anderson's films).

The art direction, costumes, cars and interior sets faithfully recreate the decades of the 1960s and 1980s during which the film takes place.

Much of Wilson's story, by turns, sad, tragic and inspiring, as recounted in his autobiography, "Wouldn't It Be Nice: My Own Story" (1991), and in other books and films, is known to Beach Boys and pop music fans, including his alleged mistreatment by his father (and the group's first manager), Murry Wilson (Bill Camp).

The "Pet Sounds" and "Smile" sessions, the writing and recording of "Heroes and Villains," with the participation of Van Dyke Parks (Max Schneider), is glimpsed at.

"Love & Mercy" spins Wilson's life in bursts, not unlike his group's hit 45 rpm singles. Near-hallucinatory visuals and sounds give the movie-goer a sense of what Wilson went through, and perhaps still does.

"Love & Mercy," while a sweet and lovely film, is not for everyone. However, if you are a pop music fan, and especially a Beach Boys fan, or a musician, the film is a must-see.

"Love & Mercy," MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.) for thematic elements, drug content and language; Genre: Biography, Drama, Music; Run time: 2 hrs., 1 min.; Distributed by Roadside Attractions and Lions Gate Entertainment.

Credit Readers Anonymous: Brian Wilson sings the song, "Love & Mercy" (1988), during the end credits. At the very end, recording studio audio is heard.

Box Office, June 12: "Jurassic World" came back from the dead to stomp the competition with the largest-ever opening with $208.8 million ("The Avengers" opened with $207.4 million in 2012), sending "Spy" down to No. 2, $16 million, $56.9 million, two weeks; with "San Andreas" dropping from No. 2 to No. 3, $11 million, $119.3 million, three weeks; and "Insidious: Chapter 3" dropping from No. 3 to No. 4, $7.3 million, $37.3 million, three weeks;

5. "Pitch Perfect 2," $6 million, $170.7 million, five weeks, 6."Entourage," $4.3 million, $25.8 million, two weeks; 7. "Mad Max: Fury Road," $4.1 million, $138.6 million, five weeks; 8. "Avengers: Age of Ultron," $3.6 million, $444.7 million, seven weeks; 9. "Tomorrowland," $3.4 million, $83.6 million, four weeks; 10. "Love & Mercy," $1.7 million, $4.7 million, two weeks

Unreel, June 19:

"Inside Out," PG: Pete Docter ("Up," 2009; "Monsters, Inc." 2001) directs the Disney-Pixar animation feature comedy that gives voice to the emotions in a girl's "head quarters": joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black and Mindy Kaling are among the talent who voice "the voices" in the girl's head.

"Infinitely Polar Bear," R: Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana star in the comedy-drama about a manic-depressive father.

"Manglehorn," PG-13: A small-town locksmith named Manglehorn tries to unlock his emotions. Al Pacino and Holly Hunter star in the drama.

Read Paul Willistein's movie reviews at the Lehigh Valley Press website,; the Times News website,; and hear them on "Lehigh Valley Art Salon," 6-6:30 p.m. Mondays, WDIY 88.1 FM,, where the movie reviews are archived. Email Paul Willistein: pwillistein@ tnonline. com. Follow Paul Willistein on Twitter @ PaulWillistein and friend Paul Willistein on Facebook.

Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

Classified Ads

Event Calendar


October 2017


Twitter Feed

Reader Photo Galleries