Saturday, June 6, 2015

Love and Mercy (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Love and Mercy

Famed producer Bill Pohlad delivers an epic film in "Love and Mercy" that spills across the screen the way a comprehensive biography in print might, with rich detail, vibrant color and intense focus. Here we are in the phantasmagoric and neon world of Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Both actors Paul Dano and John Cusack bring this uncompromising and intense man to life in a wild collaboration.

Dano plays Wilson as a young man. Within his ears sounds growl and multiply like auditory monsters. His headphones are comforting pillows that insulate him from what becomes his own bestiary of noise.

In the first scene, garbled images roll on top of him in absolute confusion, making communication dreamy, nightmarish and impossible. Sound has teeth. Not to mention a father's cutting slap that takes us through Brian Wilson's ear canal, down a rabbit hole that makes a tribute to "Blue Velvet" as much as family dysfunction. This is another outing with Dano as the odd man out, but once again there is juice in his gesture.

Young Wilson travels into music and finds refuge. With his brothers he creates a half dozen, summery rhythms of euphoria and peace. The Beach Boys have a hit with Surfin' USA and become a household name. Six young men in raspberry pin striped shirts beam bliss across thousands of tv screens  while the money pours in.

Despite this success, Wilson retreats. Like John Lennon and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana after him, Wilson yearns to push boundaries, forget the pop world and create new sound combinations. In one scene, he mixes in a dog barking and asks for a horse. All the better to illustrate the multilayered epic inside his head.

As the older man, Cusack plays a softer more reticent Brian, one who has known devils, demons and disappointment and can do nothing but try to cope. The concept of a woman is a bright pink cloth of security that covers him in his imagination. Because of his insecurities, romance dances forever ahead of him like some unattainable and wintry sleigh bells.

Wilson is driven to stagnancy by his Luciferic   manager, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). He meets a curvaceous model and car salesman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) And although he loves her, the echo of the sea is the one thing that truly calms him.

The pull of this film is that it gives only what is needed in impressionistic dabs of Brian Wilson; we are given the freedom to imagine for ourselves who he truly is, and not one image is fully definitive. Dano and Cusack work wonderfully together, both adding to each other's gestures and intent, while sometimes pushing against each other. Both actors are excellent and evocative, but Dano may well have an edge, for the sheer force of his mania and strife.

One rightly comes away from watching "Love and Mercy" seeing the young boy in the older man, both visible and yet split in two. Both of Wilson's selves pine for a sound yet unheard by mortals, when once as a youth, he compulsively and relentlessly demands that a bass cello sound "broken and grating like a propellor." In this vignette Brian Wilson almost becomes an Alfred Hitchcock, toying with the audience's expectations for an easy summer. By throwing sand in his fan's faces, he conjures darker and more arresting places for us to visit that circles the edges of both The Beatles and Bernard Herrmann.

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