I think the hardest part of this 366 movies challenge is picking what to watch this year. There are classics I have never seen, favorites I want to revisit and of course many films I haven’t even heard about yet. I am also trying to see films of critical acclaim that don’t get as much attention from audiences as they deserve.
Between that and the retrospective of Paul Dano’s work I am going to try to fit in this year, Love & Mercy was a good place to start.
Indiewire critics say the film, directed by Bill Pohlad and starring Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks, was overlooked at the Oscars this year and that it has reinvigorated the biopic genre.
Pohlad, who has largely focused on producing in the last several years, shows the life of Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson by splitting his experiences as a young man in the 1960s (Dano) and then those two decades later as he (Cusack) struggles with mental health issues and a meddling, to say the least, doctor.
What stands from this film for me are the performances by Dano and Cusack and how Dano especially loses himself in playing Wilson as he took the Beach Boys in a new direction and created one of the band’s most acclaimed albums, Pet Sounds.
While the split between the life of young and older Wilson was effective to show his ups and downs in his personal relationships and career, the style of the film also felt a bit fragmented at times.
There was so much going on for Wilson as a young man in a groundbreaking band already facing issues with his mental health and an abusive father, personally and professionally, in addition to what he dealt with as he got older and Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) was giving him the wrong care for self-serving reasons.
There is also his relationship with Melinda Ledbetter (Banks) that really brought to light his true self as a man and that Landy’s intentions and care were hurting Wilson. While Wilson was sick, he wasn’t truly a paranoid schizophrenic.
I wish the film would have just focused on one aspect of Wilson’s life, but at the same time understand why Pohlad wanted to tell the whole story.
It also includes a good amount of the past Beach Boys music, which Dano did perform on vocals and piano in parts of the film, and how the Pet Sounds album was made.
I think Indiewire is right that Love & Mercy is overlooked at the Oscars, primarily for its acting, but so many films are and hopefully they can still be appreciated by audiences and, in the case of biopics and other true-to-life projects, the people they are based on.
“It struck me that somebody could make music that made so many people smile yet had so much struggle in his real life. And the fact that I didn’t know his story, and I’m a pretty big music fan and a Beach Boys fan, I thought, ‘Wow there’s really a story to tell here.’” – Paul Dano.