More than just a portrait of a tortured genius, “Love & Mercy” is the story of perhaps the greatest American pop band ever, The Beach Boys, and its musical heart and soul, Brian Wilson.
It’s also the story of the now-deceased controversial psychologist Dr. Eugene Landy, who is portrayed as nothing short of a monster as Wilson’s manipulative medical guardian.
“Love & Mercy” time jumps mostly between the ‘60s and ‘70s with younger Wilson portrayed by Paul Dano, while John Cusak covers the duty in the later years, when Wilson first meets his current wife Melinda Ledbetter, played by Elizabeth Banks.
Paul Giamatti is terrifying as Landy, who treated Wilson during his most difficult years in the late ‘70s through the early 1990s. The film is not kind to Wilson brothers/Beach Boys’ father Murray Wilson, played by Bill Camp.
Fans of the Beach Boys music, musicians of any ilk, and audiophiles will love the extensive studio sessions where hits such as “Wouldn’t it Be Nice,” “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations” were first fleshed out.
At times it’s hard to watch the young Brian Wilson suffering from a serious mental condition later described as “auditory hallucinations,” not “paranoid schizophrenia,” as misdiagnosed by Dr. Landy.
The Beach Boys’ fans, especially, should love this biopic, but even audiences not well acquainted with Wilson and the Beach Boys legend should find this a bit of solid movie making.
What do those stars mean?
* Really, really, really bad. Don’t bother.
** Pretty bad, with one or more redeeming scenes.
*** Pretty good, but maybe not great, worth seeing for most
**** Really great, a winning combination of story, casting, and directing
***** The rarest gem, an all-around perfect motion picture