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Listen above to the review by David H. Anthony. (Transcript posted below.)
Bill Pohlad’s Love and Mercy: The Life, Love and Genius of Brian Wilson probes links binding creative impulses and emotional trauma the Beach Boys’ gifted leader faced.
By now, many will have heard the film’s outlines. It innovatively uses actors Jeff Holman as Brian Wilson present and Paul Dano and John Cusack to depict Wilson at strikingly separate stages of adult life, past (60s) and future (80s), respectively. This may bring to mind far more complex multifold portrayals of Bob Dylan in He’s Not There.
Love and Mercy is distinct from other biopics seeking to reconstruct vivid scenarios illustrating poignant parts of the life of a tortured artist, first, because Wilson, still quite alive, called the film “very factual.” Thus it is his story in more than one way.
This may seem simple but it actually matters a great deal. Tragic tropes like neglect and abuse must be factored into the tale but so too should the protagonist’s survival.
That detail alone lends this work a rare degree of contemporaneity with its subject. However horrific the treatment meted out to the main character, he clearly endured.
Love and Mercy also addresses questions of what forms artistic inspiration might assume and the high cost of imaginative and innovative gifts. Wilson evinces agony in the act of composing. It might be as excruciating an ordeal to experience mentally while creating as can it be exhilarating in its outcome, that is, if success is achieved. Indeed often more emphasis is placed upon the price of the process than its result. Consequently, lovers of Wilson’s work may feel shortchanged in the amount heard.
At the same time, learning what it took out of him to construct it increases its value.
Also noteworthy are Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter, Paul Giamatti as über manipulative Dr. Eugene Landy and Bill Camp as Murry Wilson, Brian’s callous dad.
Adding up the pain he felt within his brain and beyond, in the fetters with which he was shackled, it is remarkable Wilson was able to manifest anything he heard inside.
What are we to make of such an excursion into the darkest corners of consciousness and worse, the systematic denial of light by those who elected to deprive Brian of it?
There are no facile replies to those queries. To these eyes, Love and Mercy demonstrated the tenacity of a human spirit to not only withstand the evil excesses of uncaring and cruel captivity, literally and figuratively, but to prevail, passionately and persistently producing art in a manner dictated by the irrepressible imagination of the artist.
That would make Love and Mercy worth donating two hours of a viewer’s existence.