Love & Mercy delves into the part of the entertainment industry where evil people lurk. Such people control and manipulate the artist while feeding off the artist’s life force, creativity, energy force or whatever you want to call it. There are not a lot of these life suckers, but the few that are there can wreak havoc. This movie answers the questions of what happened to Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Robin Williams and so forth. Luckily, Brian Wilson meets a woman who has the tenacity to help him and save his life.
The movie directed by Bill Pohlad, his second film as a director, takes a refreshing, and almost clandestine, approach to the story about Beach Boys co-founder and song writer, Brian Wilson. Two very talented actors play Wilson in different stages of his life. Paul Dano is the younger Brian. Here we see him with his cousin and a good friend, together; they launch the Beach Boys musical group in the early 1960’s. John Cusack is Brian in the 1980’s while under the control of his ingenious and vicious psychologist, Dr. Eugene Landy, played truthfully by Paul Giamatti.
The story flashes forward and back while twisting the lives of both the young Brian and the old Brian. Watching young Brian create memorable music, we see a whiz kid. He starts with “surfer” music and moves to more complicated music produced as studio sound. During this time we hear some great music by the young Brian Wilson. He is a unique soul, creating hit song after song.
He did have problems to face, such as not wanting to fly in an airplane or being on the road with the Beach Boys. So, he refused going on the road and worked in the studio instead. He also took popular recreational drugs at the time, which probably caused all his problems. Some may label him while others would say he did have demons, but psychiatric treatment is not the answer.
Dano is great as the young Wilson. His performance captures Wilson and his various mood swings and eccentricities. Here the viewer must not mistake this for mental illness. He is a genius while conversing about the mind and spirit. The older Wilson is constantly under the psychotherapy of Landy’s 24-hour surveillance and over-medication and misdiagnosis. He blatantly manipulates Wilson guising help with a colorized screen of undermining half-truths, invalidation and total lies.
The older Wilson decides he wants a new Cadillac and meets saleswoman, and his champion, Melinda Ledbetter, played brilliantly by Elizabeth Banks. They fall for each other and begin dating, supervised by Landy and his associates. History will prove that there were other interests that Landy had in Wilson other than his mental health, which Melinda touches on as she confronts the ill-intended psychologist.
At first, the flashbacks are a little annoying because the younger Wilson and the older Wilson are two very different people. After awhile it all makes sense. Both the young and old versions are hard to watch, yet Melinda proposes a breather of hope. And when she confronts Landy, I cheer her on. She does the right thing and doesn’t smack him in his demented face as he shrinks back from her absolutely determined smile. She saves Wilson and flourishes.