Don’t let the sun-drenched soundtrack fool you – Love and Mercy, a biopic about Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson and his battle with schizophrenia, is so much more than just a dreamy rose-tinted blast from the past.
Love and Mercy distinguishes itself by splitting its focus across two key periods of Wilson’s life; we’re first introduced to him in his 60’s surf rock heyday (Paul Dano), and then later shown his subsequent struggles with depression in the late 80’s (John Cusack). Both strands compliment one another perfectly, and delicately intertwine to form a touching and raw narrative that doesn’t shy away from showing the musical genius at his lowest of ebbs.
Both Dano and Cusack bring notes of vulnerability, intelligence and humour to the role; the former, a misunderstood maverick who feels held back by his peers and the latter, a tormented husk surrounded by controlling hangers-on. Neither element feels totally underdeveloped or uninteresting; the film continually switches back and forth, showing how the two strands mirror one another and connect.
The only major difference was the supporting cast in each half; Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti both deliver amazing performances as 80’s Wilson’s lover and doctor respectively, but the same can’t be said for those surrounding Dano in the early period of Wilson’s life.
There are a band of four or five actors who play the other Beach Boys, but none of them are memorable or particularly influential. They fade in and out of the story, only serving to antagonise Brian and drive the plot forward. That being said, Bill Camp (who plays Brian's devious father) does deliver a good performance.
As I mentioned earlier, both Elizabeth Banks and Paul Giamatti are great in this film. I haven't seen Banks in much else than Pitch Perfect and The Hunger Games, so it was cool to see her take on a role that was serious and demanded a range of emotion, rather than just providing comic-relief as someone like Effie.
Giamatti is the 'villain' of the piece, and his performance (I daresay) steals the show from guys like Cusack. He's just so detestable and infuriating, he makes you want to reach into the screen and strangle him.
The Verdict: 8/10
Heart-breaking, powerful and daring, Love and Mercy doesn’t just phone in a run-of-the-mill biopic about one of America’s defining rock ’n’ roll artists; anchored by a quartet of brilliant performances, this is strong character piece that can educate newcomers and satisfy aficionados in equal measure.