Love & Mercy is an ambitious attempt in dual storytelling and character breakdown, accompanied by two fantastic performances. While the film isn’t always successful, and does have some serious flaws, it’s a fascinating film to watch with some very well don sequences.
The film is a biographical film of Beach Boys singer/ songwriter Brian Wilson, who reinvented the American music scene. The film follows Wilson in two periods of time: the 1960s, in which a younger Wilson (Paul Dano) attempts to use new techniques to make new and different music, and an older Wilson (John Cusack) who struggles with the ruthless practices of his psychologist (Paul Giamatti), but finds new love in the form of his car dealer Melinda (Elizabeth Banks).
Both storylines are successful in capturing the persona of Wilson, and the combination of the direction and performances do an excellent job at capturing the character. The only issue is that the editing of the two storylines sometimes feels uneven. Large portions of time are devoted to one storyline, which occasionally makes the other one feel secondary. This happens several times in which the storylines feel unevenly mixed, and while they both succeed, a tighter edit would’ve made for a better experience.
Director Bill Pohlad directs a uniquely stylized film, featuring some extravagant cinematography to capture the inner turmoil of Brian Wilson. Some of the film’s best sequences involve Wilson’s involvement in music composition, most of which rely heavily upon the performances and direction alone. Pohlad delivers some extremely intense sequences, and does a great job at building tension, but the strength of the film relies in its subtler, deeper moments.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the film is the strong performances. Though Paul Dano is primarily known for oddball character roles, such as There Will Be Blood or Looper, he serves as an excellent leading man here, and gives a nuanced performance as Wilson. The desire to make unique music, as well as the struggle with inner demons make for a compelling story, and Dano gives life to this aspect of the film.
John Cusack also delivers one of his better performances. Though his role sometimes feels a bit over-the-top in its exhibition of Wilson’s schizophrenia, he ultimately delivers a soulful and heartfelt performance, specifically in the film’s conclusion. The relationship he develops with Elizabeth Banks feels hit-and-miss as well, and while it does help develop the film’s plot, it also adds another layer to the character of Brian Wilson.
The major problem facing Love & Mercy is the lack of subtlety and excessive runtime. The major conflicts of the film are presented very early on, and feel unsubtle in comparison to the development of characters. In turn, the film has little conflict to set up, and elements of the plot feel like a drag. Though the runtime isn’t egregiously long, many plot points feel strained in a way that would’ve worked better with a shorter length.
Love & Mercy is a well-crafted film that has many flaws, but delivers in its performances and direction. Despite the weaker elements, there’s a lot to look for in the film, and for those who are interested in the story, it’s a fulfilling biography. Grade: B