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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Love & Mercy: A Review

Someday a movie about the Beatles may be made that's better than Love & Mercy about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, but until then Love & Mercy, which I just saw tonight with my wife, is easily the best rock star bio pick ever made.  Hey, it's the best movie about a musician ever made, period, and that's saying a lot, because Amadeus was none too shabby, not to mention the great movies over the years about greats like Ray Charles and Johnny Cash.

Brian Wilson's life is so big it took two stars to portray him - Paul Dano the younger Brian and John Cusack the older Brian - and both were just superb.  Though Dano looks more like the younger Brian than Cusack does the older, the performances of both were peerless, down to the mannerisms, tones of voice, and little ticks of Brian Wilson.  The music similarly was a seamless web with what was going on inside Brian's head and what we the devoted fans were hearing of the Beach Boys on radio and television.  The recording studio scenes were so realistic I felt like calling out to the engineer and asking him to bring up the bass a little more.

The movie is peppered with memorable phrases, delivered like history come to life, that I've both heard before and heard for the first time in this movie.  Jake Abel as Mike Love - another spot on performance - is there to complain to Brian that he can't make sense out of "sunny down snuff" and Van Dyke Park's masterful lyrics to "Heroes and Villains".  That's one I heard before.   But when a studio musician tells Brian that Phil Spector "has nothing" on Brian, that one was new to me, and I was as pleased as Brian in the movie to hear it (and not because I don't love Spector's music - he's a stone genius too - but I because I just love Brian's more).

Elizabeth Banks put in such a compelling and attractive performance as Brian's life-saving Melinda, that Banks instantly rocketed up to my favorite contemporary actress, that's right.  The sensitivity and strength of her performance made it totally believable that Brian fell in love with her, and she figured out a way to cut Brian lose from his baneful, control-freak, suffocating psychiatrist, well played by Paul Giamatti.

To get back the Beatles, the Beach Boys since the 1960s have been my second favorite rock group, way ahead of the Stones, in third place, and I guess, I don't know, the Eagles or the Who after that. Anyway, I don't want to argue about that.  I just want to say how good it was indeed in Love & Mercy, brilliantly directed by Bill Pohlad, to see Brian finally get more of the credit he deserves, not only for his music, but for making it and bringing it back against almost all the odds of his mental demons and most of the people around him.

See also my review of  The Beach Boys in White Plains
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