Love & Mercy is a biopic that follows Beach Boys co-founder Brian Wilson.
It’s arguably the best musician-based film since 2004’s Ray, which garnered Jamie Foxx an Academy Award for Best Actor. Love and Mercy has the same gut-wrenching drama and hardened back-story that reaps Academy attention. However, this film is refreshing in that it focuses on Brian Wilson’s inner battles when creating some of the Beach Boys’ most iconic albums - including 1966’s Pet Sounds.
Director of photography Robert D. Yeoman, who is known for working extensively with Wes Anderson, and director Bill Pohland, utilize quirky camera angles and impeccable sound design to immerse the audience in the mind and imagination of Wilson. This is a fresh and stimulating approach to pretty heavy subject material - in contrast to cliché flashbacks or complete CGI ‘acid trip’ sequences.
Along with innovative camera work and the best sound design since last year’s Whiplash (kudos to Oscar winner Eugene Gearty), the performances are quite moving. Paul Dano portrays Wilson in the 60s, when the Boys were at their prime and Wilson was at the peak of his career. John Cusack takes the mantle as Wilson in the 80s - as he courts the beautiful model-turned-car saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), and battles his own demons - including psychologist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).
Personally, I’m a fan of Giamatti, but here, his character is very one-sided and utterly unlikeable. Landy is portrayed as a quintessential villain that feels more like a caricature than an actual believable person. This was probably not Giamatti’s fault, as the film was produced and championed by Wilson and his family. However, this is a shining point for Dano. I am expecting at least a nomination for him, even though it’s a tad early for Oscar predictions. He is definitely one of the strongest young actors working now, and the choice of him to fill the shoes of such an interesting and ingenious artist is just the role he needed. He has what it takes to be a leading man, and at the helm, the film is told with such artistic mastery as Brian Wilson’s own intellect.
Love & Mercy revitalizes the biopic genre in a way that pays homage to both the talent and people it portrays, but also keeps the audience engaged with the techniques, styles, and performances.
Overall rating: A-