There is so much good to say about Love & Mercy—from the script (Michael A. Lerner, Oren Moverman), to the direction (Bill Pohlad), to the acting (above), to the music (Atticus Ross) and sound, to the cinematography (Robert D. Yeoman), and the editing (Dino Jonsäter). It’s a tight production with excellence in every frame. Normally, I dislike jumping around in time with a story—particularly a bio-pic; but it works here to increase the viewer’s sense of the turbulent inner world of Brian Wilson.
Director Bill Pohlad has primarily been involved in producing rather than directing, and when Love & Mercy first started, I was annoyed by the ambiguity of not knowing whether Brian Wilson was talking to himself or to someone else, and by the blank screens with only ambiguous sounds in the background. Having seen the film, I now think it was a good strategy to heighten the suspense, and give the audience a chance to experience the disorientation and confusion that were so much a part of Wilson’s experience and the often turbulent lives of geniuses. Also now, after having seen his film, I hope he continues to direct, using his considerable skill in composing quality works.
Their roles seem to be career highlights for Banks and Cusack. Banks lovingly portrays Melinda Ledbetter, letting her passion and common sense shine through. Her eyes can convey so much one has the sense of seeing her soul inside. Just as probably Brian did, we trust her to be true and genuinely interested in Brian for himself. And I reveled in a beautiful blonde being characterized as assertive and wise along with her good looks. AND, would that all our car salespersons had her winning personality and relaxed sell! Although Dano and Cusack look nothing alike, each is able to get into Brian’s skin so securely, we eventually ignore the differences. They are particularly good at showing the effects of pain, drugs, and creative inspirations, along with the obvious sincerity of Brian and his ability to see the larger picture, ignoring the doubts and taunts of those surrounding him throughout the early and middle years of his life. At first I didn’t recognize Giamatti with his 60’s hairdo/hairpiece; but his voice revealed his identity to me. He is probably one of the greatest character actors in the business. Here, he is an exploitative, shyster insisting on complete control, a role similar to his attorney/wrestling coach Mike Flaherty in Win Win. That character was redeemed to some extent, whereas Gene Landy suffered fitting consequences of his actions.
Music, editing, and sound people achieved a good balance between the music and the drama, which is not always the case with this kind of film. Here, there are fine musical highlights of Beach Boy songs, and still plenty of intimate, as well as highly dramatic material, which presumably can be credited to composer and soundtrack expert Atticus Ross (Gone Girl). Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman (a favorite of Wes Anderson) makes pictures that fit so well with the story and are so artistic many of the scenes are made even more memorable.
Mercy! Go see this lovely film!
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland