Let’s start with a few simple facts on this one.
Love & Mercy is a music-focused biopic on Brian Wilson — member of the Beach Boys, producer, and noted recluse for much of the decades after creating some of the 1960s best pop music.
One of those creations was the 1966 album Pet Sounds.
Along with much of the music critics circle, I believe Pet Sounds is one of the best pop albums ever made. Maybe the best.
Love & Mercy shows much of the creation of Pet Sounds — a theatrical re-telling of Wilson’s genius in creating that album and putting life into the recordings you can find on his work.
These variables lead to an equation that made it very unlikely I would not LOVE or HATE Love & Mercy. Fortunately, it was the former.
This is a great biopic — not necessarily to keeping true to Wilson’s story (I don’t know enough about that, other than that the director worked with Wilson and his wife (who plays prominently in the movie) and had their permissions to create it.
The movie split his story into two — the younger Wilson as he grows to fame and decides that his talents are best kept at home where he can work on producing music — a smart move for a budding recording genius. Paul Dano plays this part and plays it with the nervous energy and chaotic genius that Wilson must have had to create something like Pet Sounds.
The second is his later life, somewhat in the midst of, but mostly after, the years of psychotic breakdown. This Brian Wilson was played by John Cusack (who looked just a bit too John Cusack-like to always pull the role off….we couldn’t add weigh or do anything there??? C’maaan!)
I won’t go too deep into the plot. It’s a true story, so the plot is essentially Wilson’s wikipedia page here.
The movie hits the right keys when we see Dano orchestrate Pet Sounds — an audicious album of so many instruments and sounds that rock n’ roll had never had (this was before, and a big influence to, the later Sgt. Peppers).
Dano’s Wilson is set on making the greatest album ever made. He has the music in his head and just needs to get it out on paper, no matter how complex it is, how many hours he needs to spend in the studio etc…All of this too while facing disbelief from his team of other Beach Boys, none of who had been in this kind of “sound” before, a father wrapped up in emotionally abusing Brian, AND the introduction of drugs into the scene and his own mind.
Crazy thing is, he damn near succeeded in doing it.
And through Bill Pohland’s lens we see how it all came together.
The joy was really in the reproduction of this genius and the sound Brian Wilson created. In the span of a few months, this man wrote ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, ‘Sloop John B’ and ‘Good Vibrations’. Those are three titans in the pantheon halls of rock/pop music — and good enough to hold against any four Beatles songs.
And that’s not going into the albums underrated hits (‘Here Today’, ‘I Know There’s An Answer’,’That’s Not Me’).
I’m losing the movie a bit in this waxing here and I can tell but the musical element is just so damn strong. It’s what you take away from the movie and the great joy of seeing this displayed. Great albums don’t just arrive one day. They’re crafted, written, edited, re-recorded. There’s men, or in this case, a man, behind the construction. That man is baring his soul and crafting a ‘David’ in his own sense. As we see, this almost killed Brian Wilson (and some others almost did too). Luckily, we have his albums. And perhaps even more miraculously, we have him back.