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Love & Mercy

Paul Dano as the young Brian Wilson Roadside Attractions

<em>Love & Mercy</em>
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It’s impossible not to pity the grown man cowering like a child as another man screams into his face. That’s one of many heart-wrenching scenes in Love & Mercy, an Oscar-beckoning biopic of Brian Wilson, formerly the genius behind The Beach Boys. But it takes more than a visceral pity to save Wilson, as the movie title suggests.

Love & Mercy follows the full creative process of Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys’ innovative, psychedelic 1966 album, which also earns the movie a PG-13 rating for thematic contents, drugs, and language. The music is cacophonous, evocative, sometimes ethereal—much like the movie, which switches narratives back and forth from the young, drug-addled Wilson (Paul Dano) in the 1960s to the middle-aged, broken Wilson (John Cusack) in the 1980s.

The effect is disjointed and unsettling—exactly like Wilson’s debilitating mental state—and it works, sucking the audience into the mind of Wilson, who thinks and feels through clashes of vocals, symphony, and sound effects. Pet Sounds isn’t just another push-the-envelope “greatest” album, but an eruption of his fears, insecurity, and depression—a siren call for help.

Cusack’s Wilson finally finds help at an L.A. Cadillac dealership with model-turned-salesperson Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). They then date awkwardly under the supervision of his unctuous psychotherapist/legal guardian Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who saved Wilson from gradual suicide but now controls him by overdosing him with antipsychotic drugs.

Wilson is surrounded by people who pity him and define him by his mental illness—but Melinda is the first to delight in him as a person and free him from his oppressors.

Every lead actor deserves a standing ovation: Cusack tugs hearts and wrings tears playing a slow-reviving Wilson, while Dano dissolves into his character’s former exhilarating soul and passion. They make Love & Mercy both beautiful and devastating to watch without condensing its human subject into the stereotypical mad genius.

Sophia Lee

Sophia is a former senior reporter for WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Southern California graduate. Sophia resides in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband.



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