“Love & Mercy” Offers Both to Famed Beach Boy
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Often called “America’s Band” to distinguish it from the so-called British Invasion, the group formed in 1961. Brian Wilson and his brothers Dennis and Carl were joined by their cousin Mike Love and friend Al Jardine. The Wilson boys’ abusive dad was their original manager, before their fame outgrew their homegrown success. The group had 36 Top 40 Hits, the most ever by any American rock band. They have sold more than 100 million records worldwide. Rolling Stone lists them as 12th among the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Domineering Brian Wilson was the unofficial leader. The years 1956 to 1966 are considered the “Brian Wilson Era.” But all the success of the ‘60s dissipated as Brian succumbed to mental instability and substance abuse. Wilson suffers from auditory hallucinations, a result of SZA, a disorder that displays features of both schizophrenia and bipolar depression.
During the ‘80s there was much legal wrangling over royalties. Brother Dennis drowned in 1983; Carl died of lung cancer in 1998. There was a brief 50th Anniversary reunion. Afterwards, Wilson and Love went in separate directions.
“Love & Mercy” -- this new biopic about Brian Wilson that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema -- takes its title from the same-named song that appeared on Wilson’s 1988 debut solo album. “‘Love and Mercy’ is probably the most spiritual song I’ve ever written,” says Wilson. The movie was made with his cooperation and features an array of Beach Boys songs.
The film offers two parallel stories: That of the young Brian Wilson (played by a pudgy Paul Dano) at the peak of his success in the 1960s, but becoming bored with singing about “sun and summer and summer and sun,” and starting to hear voices in his head … and that of the middle-aged Brian Wilson (played by John Cusack) under the care of an unscrupulous psychotherapist, Dr. Eugene Landy (played by Paul Giamatti). The later story tells how a pretty used car saleslady named Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks) fell for Brian and helped wrest control of him away from Landy. Melinda became Brian Wilson’s second (and current) wife.
As told here, it’s a story of redemption. Screenwriter Oren Moverman cleaned up the painful facts a bit. When I interviewed Oren a couple of years ago, he admitted to being a fan of the Beach Boys and of Bob Dylan. His plot bubbles down to that of a folk hero being saved from a bad man by a good woman.
The song “Love and Mercy” explains the theme of the movie -- and Brian Wilson’s life: “There’s no guarantee of somebody waking up in the morning with any love. It goes away, like a bad dream. It disappears. Mercy would be a deeper word than love. I would think love is a gentle thing and mercy would be more desperate, ultimately more desperately needed, thing in life. Mercy – a little break here and there for somebody who’s having trouble,” says Wilson.
You might be interested to know the song had extra lyrics that didn’t appear in its final version: “I was praying to a god who just doesn't seem to hear / Oh, the blessings we need the most are what we all fear…"