Flashing back and forth in time, we follow the lead singer and songwriter of The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson. In the ’60s we see Wilson (Paul Dano) in his prime right when the group is hitting it big. In the ’80s we see Wilson in his adult years (John Cusack). Throughout the film we see Wilson as a very much damaged man who is controlled by unorthodox doctor Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). It’s only when Wilson meets Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) that his life takes a turn and Melinda becomes his saving grace. During this we see Wilson’s troubled past and how he experimented with psychedelic drugs and the psychosis that gradually emerges and takes its toll on him.
Love & Mercy isn’t particularly about The Beach Boys themselves as a group, but they play a major part in the life of Brian Wilson. We see glimpses of them performing their major hits and how they came to be, particularly their famous tune “God Only Knows”. Not only this but it provides a massive amount of nostalgia for its time setting that many older adult will relive themselves. It is very much a biopic about Wilson, but that doesn’t discern the impact his band mates had on him. Paul Dano provides an outstanding breakthrough performance as younger Brian. Dano expresses the amount of passion that Wilson had when it came to creating and performing his music in his facial expressions and body language. Even for those such as myself who weren’t around when The Beach Boys were big, you can easily sense the bond of the group and the passion Wilson had for the music. Along with his passion, Dano also captures the troubled side of Wilson as he deals with the mental and often physical abuse of his father and his eventual use of drugs and his recurring mental illness. But the core and heart of the story occurs in the scene with Wilson as an adult. John Cusack provides one of, if not his best performance here. After everything we’ve seen of Wilson in his younger years, Cusack takes all of it and amplifies it. He masterfully captures how truly troubled and damaged he now is, but still managing to keep his passion for music and his longing for a happy life. Your heart really breaks for him. Especially when seeing the mistreatment of him by his caretaker and doctor played by Paul Giamatti. Gamete also provides another one of if not his best performance here. He is incredible in the role of our villain who is keeping Wilson under his control and preventing him from having his own life. You watch Giamatti and it’s so hard to forget he is just an actor that you incredibly hate him, but then you realize he IS an actor but this actually happened to Wilson and Giamatti really lets this show. Finally we have Elizabeth Banks, mostly known for her comedic roles, provides (yes, you guessed it), her best performance of her career thus far. In her first major dramatic role she plays the strong-willed and caring Melinda who is easily charmed by Wilson. As their relationship grows and she begins to see what his life is really like, it doesn’t steer her away, she is more than determined to help Wilson despite the obstacles. Their love story is really what makes the movie and you sit there and fall in love with them and hope that they find their happy ending. This in part is all thanks to the perfect chemistry between Cusack and Banks.
Love & Mercy is a powerful and often time emotional biopic and love story about a member of one of the greatest groups in history. If you love The Beach Boys and their music, you won’t be disappointed. If you want a strong love story that doesn’t fall under cliches, you won’t be disappointed. Powerful acting by it’s cast? You got it. This film has everything for everyone and is definitely not one to be missed.