"Love & Mercy" gives us a glimpse into the tortured genius of one of rock 'n' roll's most influential voices - Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. And the movie was made with his blessing.
Wilson's longtime drug use and his mental breakdown have been well publicized, but unlike most biopics that would be satisfied dealing with those battles, this movie is a far deeper exploration of the man, his creative process, and what may have fueled those troubles.
Two actors are used to paint a portrait of this artist. Paul Dano plays Brian in the 60s when he moved the Beach Boys beyond surfer music and into more experimental areas with the groundbreaking album "Pet Sounds." John Cusack plays Brian in the 80s, a shell of his former who finds a savior in Melinda Ledbetter, played by Elizabeth Banks, who's never been better.
By the 80s Brian was under the control of his legal guardian, Dr. Eugene Landy, played by Paul Giamatti, a crook swindling money from his patient, keeping him over-medicated, and preventing even his own family from seeing him.
It's basically two movies happening at the same time: a music bio and a love story. Scenes between Cusack and Banks are played beautifully. Banks is wonderful serving as our proxy as she learns about this man's secrets and talents.
Dano is a revelation, though, disappearing into the role. It's thrilling watching Brian at the peak of his creativity craft some of the Beach Boys' best songs, and directing session players to produce what's he's hearing in his head. Those scenes are shot with handheld cameras, making us feel like we're in the room. In that way, and so many others, "Love and Mercy is a very intimate film - sad, sublime and ultimately uplifting.