Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Love & Mercy Review: A Soothing Biographical Drama

A musician's life is not a strange trend to see on screen. Over the years certain dramas have been known to center on the world of music and how the story of a rockstar is filled with both fame and misery. I cannot help but think that if you have seen one biographical drama on a musician then you have likely seen them all; but that does not stop filmmakers from depicted these kind of celebrities. The latest film of this genre deals with one of the hit bands of the 60's: The Beach Boys.  The Beach Boys made a name for themselves with a variety of hit songs and albums. However not everything was sunshine for the band; especially for band leader Brian Wilson. Brian had a number of issues that he had to deal in his, and we see that in the new film Love & Mercy. Directed by Bill Pohland,  Love & Mercy centers on two points in Brian's life. That is certainly a unique way to handle a movie like this, and it definitely got people's attention when it made an appearance at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Yet could this ambitious biographical film do the Beach Boy member justice, or is just another film based on a musician?

As noted, Love & Mercy deals with two points in Brian Wilson' life. First there is Brian as young man (portrayed by Paul Dano). As Brian tries to develop new songs for the band, certain issue begin to occur; like Brian's conflict with the band and his impending mental break. The second point of the story is a middle age Brian (portrayed by John Cusack) who meets his second wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). As the two starts dating, Melinda shows concern for Brian as his psychologist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) is not giving Brian the proper treatment.

The concept of telling a person's life from two different points is definitely compelling, but it also can be difficult to pull off. A number of concerns may arise such as maintaining the right balance of telling the two stories, or not having the pacing feel sporadic. Thankfully the plot to Love & Mercy does not suffer from any of these problems. Both stories were handled well as they both give viewers enough time to comprehend the two parts of Brian's life. The movie definitely had a character based story as the depictions of the Beach Boy drove the plot. The story does follow some trends seen in other biographical musician films, but thankfully concept behind this story makes these traits refreshing.

It is certainly interesting aspect to have a character depicted by two performances; especially one that is based on a real person. Not only was this direction handled well but both Paul Dano and John Cusack had wonderful performances as Brian Wilson. Both actors were able to show the genius and conflict in Wilson, and it made the musician a likable movie character. The only issue I had with the two depictions of Brian Wilson was that it did feel two different interpretation. While the different interpretation of Brian Wilson made sense as people can change over time, I was hoping that details in Cusack and Dano's performance would create the illusion that they were the same character. Keep in mind that this issue is more of a nitpick then it is a major complaint, but I felt it was a detail to address. Elizabeth Banks had a great performance as Melinda. Rather then coming off as just a common love interest for Brian, Melinda had her own compelling arc to follow as she tried to help Brian to the best of her ability. Paul Giamatti provided a supporting role as Eugene Landy. The problem was,though Giamatti had his usual energetic performance, the characterization of this psychiatrist came off as too antagonistic. Landy's motives were clear, but he felt too much like a standard bad guy.

The cinematography to Love & Mercy was definitely fitting for the film. The scenes of Brian's earlier life came off very much like the 60's, and it worked for both the setting and mood of the movie. Seeing that this is a movie about musician, you could be sure that the music from The Beach Boys would be used in the film's soundtrack. The music of the acclaimed bands was certainly there and  it was appropriately used as it blended with the score by Atticus Ross. With Brian's condition being a major part of the film, there were some interesting sequences to show just what was going through Brian's mind. I found these moments to be very effective as they showed the turmoil of Brian's condition; and the movie did not use these sequences in a obnoxious fashion.

When it comes to biographical dramas, Love & Mercy is definitely one of a kind. The movie depicts the life of Brian Wilson in a way that does the musician justice; all while making the Beach Boy's story an engaging cinematic experience. Even with some of the more typical directions of biographical drama, Love & Mercy manages to make this genre's common traits refreshing to see as it shows that you do not even need to be a Beach Boy fan to find this movie engaging.

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