I had very little knowledge of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys going into Love and Mercy, but the film is definitely one of my absolute favourites of 2015.
The beautiful, subversive film utterly refuses to conform to any constrictive or maudlin genre conventions.
The film is a character study exploring music (particularly the creation and production of it), mental illness, and how incredibly vital and nourishing love can be to people.
Atticus Ross’ score is a masterpiece in and of itself; creating incredible soundscapes out of stems and tracks from the Beach Boys catalogue, the result perfectly putting you in the mindset of Wilson.
Dano, Cusack, and Banks can’t be praised enough for their excellent work in this film. Dano and Cusack both perfectly portray a breaking Wilson and a broken Wilson looking to heal, although Dano might slightly edge out Cusack in terms of nuance. Banks steals so many of the scenes she’s in. I was surprised at the sort of subtle strength she played so well. It was a difficult performance and she nailed it.
I’ve seen some criticism that the Dano and Cusack halves are seperate enough that Love and Mercy feels like two separate good films that never merges right. While that’s certainly a valid reading, I didn’t feel that way at all. Apart from parallels and whatnot (father figures, support networks), the two radically different Brian Wilsons seem necessary to me to communicate who the man really is. It’s only through seeing the Dano scenes that the Cusack scenes are contextualised, and the Cusack scenes lend weight and meaning to the Dano scenes.
If I did make a criticism, it would be that the directing seems workmanlike a lot of the time, and some of the visual and dialogue choices lean towards awkwardly pointed (“we’re too shallow for the deep end”, etc.). I would have loved to see the amount of creativity poured into the score poured into the visual direction of the movie.
I give it four masters, and a piano in the sand.