A fascinating and sometimes sad biopic, Love & Mercy is about the life of the musical genius Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Dropping the formulaic rags-to riches style, director Bill Pohlad instead bounces back between two significant points in Wilson’s life and career: in the mid-sixties recording the soundtrack for what would become Pet Sounds and roughly two decades later, when Wilson’s personal and professional life was under the zealous control of psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti)
Inspired by the Beatles, Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) yearns to move his group The Beach Boys away from the surf-pop that has become their signature sound into a more creative, experimental direction. Yet, even as he’s making some of the best music of his life, his relationships with family, friends and bandmates are strained and the illness that will soon take over his life is becoming more prominent.
By the mid-eighties, Wilson, (now played by John Cusack) is a shell of himself, is over medicated and unable to do anything without the permission of Dr. Landy or one of his henchman. It’s during this time that Brian meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) who sells him a Cadillac. There’s and immediate spark between the two and they start dating. The couple are always accompanied by Landy or someone working for him. During this time, Melinda is privy to Brian being overmedicated and verbally abused by his doctor. It was Melinda who started the process that got Dr. Landy out of Brian’s life and into the treatment that returned him to a satisfying and meaningful life.
Love & Mercy deftly combines Brian’s relationship with Melinda with scenes when Brian was younger. The scenes showing Wilson working on Pet Sounds display how complex his life was at the time. Despite drug use, a crumbling marriage, hallucinations and voices in his head he didn’t understand, Brian was still able to create one of the greatest albums of all time.
The entire cast of Love & Mercy deliver solid performances, but the real standouts are Paul Dano playing the young Brian and Elizabeth Banks as Melinda. Dano looks and moves so much like Wilson did as a young man (there’s even some brief footage of the ‘real’ young Brian Wilson in the film), it’s easy to believe it’s actually him. Elizabeth Banks gives the performance of her career thus far, as essentially an average woman faced with an extraordinary situation. While she doesn’t have any really dramatic scenes, Banks gives Melinda some nuances that make her hard to forget. And a word about Paul Giamatti: over the years, Giamatti has proven himself to be such a reliable character actor it would be easy to overlook his performance, but once again, as Dr. Eugene Landy he’s the villain you love to hate.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the 1080p transfer from Lionsgate is excellent. The image is flawless and fine detail impressive throughout. Color reproduction is spot on and vibrant. Blacks are inky and shadow detail impressive.
The DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix provides a nice surround experience, with music reproduced very well. Dialogue sounds clean and clear. There are no problems with distortions, dropouts, etc.
Subtitles are provided in English, English SDH and Spanish.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Bill Pohlad and Executive Producer/Co-writer Oren Moverman: The two discuss making the film, scene specific details, Brian Wilson’s involvement in the process and more. Well worth a listen.
- A California Story: Creating The Look of Love & Mercy: (HD, 10:48) Cast and crew discuss getting the look of the film just right.
- A-Side/B-Side: Portraying The Life of Brian Wilson (HD, 25:32) Paul Dano, John Cusack, director Bill Pohlad and Brian Wilson himself, among others, discuss what it took to get Wilson’s movements and personality quirks correct, as well as the two storylines that make up the film.
- Digital Copy