Love & Mercy (2014)

Love & Mercy
Director: Bill Pohlad
Writer: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Kenny Wormald, Dee Wallace, Joanna Going, Brett Davern, Erin Darke, Graham Rogers
Seen on: 21.6.2015

Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) works as car saleswoman and one day, a guy (John Cusack) strolls into her shop, interested to buy. Turns out, he is Brian Wilson, formerly of The Beach Boys. Brian seems a little off and is accompanied by two bodyguards and a doctor – Eugene (Paul Giamatti). Nevertheless he manages to pass on a message, a cry for help, to Melinda. Even when he was young, Brian (Paul Dano) has had mental health issues, but now he seems completely under Eugene’s control – and apparently not doing very well.

Love & Mercy has an interesting structure and a cast that absolutely shines. I was completely immersed in the story. Yet it is also interesting to think about what has been left out of the story.


It is clear that you can’t possibly cover the entirety of a life in a two hour biopic. You will have to make cuts, you’ll have to make some narrative sense out of a life – which doesn’t always lend itself ot narrative structures like we’re used to. But precisely because of the fact that something is invariably left out and some things are invariably changed, it is interesting to look at the things that aren’t included in biopics like Love & Mercy. For example, you got Wilson’s first wife (Erin Darke) who – according to Wilson (in the film) himself – saved his life. But we get no sense of her as a character. Hell, I couldn’t even remember whether her name was mentioned at all in the film. Wilson’s daughters are also never seen, and it almost needs detective work to identify who of the Beach Boys is who – and that’s if you have any idea in the first place who they were. If you don’t know before the film, the four other men will pretty much blur into one.

All of that creates a background where nothing is important but Brian Wilson’s genius – certainly no woman ever made much of an impact in his life, not even his daughters, until Melinda came along. It makes genius into a solitary thing, fed by a tense father-son relationship, that comes completely out of Brian’s inner life (especially if you take the voices he hears into account) and carries the other members of his band to fame. That is a very common depiction of genius – and in my opinion a not unproblematic representation either. [Maybe I’ll write a thesis about this lonely, mentally ill, socially awkward, white, (mostly) middle-class, male genius and how it erases all kinds of genius that doesn’t fit the mold, in particular female and/or non-white.]

love_mercy1That might seem like I didn’t like the film, but nothing could be further from the truth. The plot is ever so worthy of Hollywood; it’s a hair-raising story with a beautiful ending and, as I said, I was completely into it, fevering for a happy end all the time. Pohlad does a great job bringing the script to life and I particularly loved the way they showed Brian’s auditory hallucinations. And the Beach Boys’ music – interestingly not as central to the film as it could have been – is awesome.

But the entire film would have collapsed without its cast. All of them were impressive and I very much enjoyed Elizabeth Banks, but it was Paul Dano who stole the show (even though I can’t remember the last time John Cusack was this good). That man seriously can do no wrong and every time I see him, I am sure that he couldn’t possibly outdo himself – and then he goes and does just that.

So, no matter whether you cared for The Beach Boys so far, you should really go and see the film. If only for Paul Dano.

Summarizing: Yes.

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