Festival Review: Love & Mercy (2015)

Love & Mercy

More than just a biopic of Brian Wilson, Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy is a portrait of musical genius and mental illness with tour de force performances from Dano, Cusack and Banks.

Good Vibrations

by Mark Wilshin

Love & Mercy

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Ostensibly a biopic of the creative force behind the Beach Boys Brian Wilson, Love & Mercy is a perfectly crafted movie of creative and mental illness. The three leads Paul Dano, John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks all give breathtaking performances, charting Wilson’s decline under the pressure of approval from his father and creative and commercial success, while suffering at the hands of psychologist Dr Gene Landy (Paul Giamatti) and negotiating a stop-start relationship with Cadillac saleswoman Melinda (who later became Wilson’s wife). Under Bill Pohlad’s direction, Love & Mercy is refreshingly clean, free from over-elaborate sets, costumes or editing techniques, allowing the dazzling performances to speak for themselves. Which doesn’t mean Love & Mercy is artless, it most certainly isn’t. But it breathes – giving over protracted scenes, for example, to studio sessions and the joy of making music. There are other delicious moments, such as the soaring sequence in which Brian takes LSD for the first time or the bedridden identity crisis in which all three versions of Brian are intercut, simultaneously a small boy, creative genius and recovering addict. It’s a tender, well told story which ultimately pays tribute to the musical genius of Brian Wilson, carefully tipping his muse from a composer who can hear arrangements and express himself through music to an over-sensitive man persecuted by loud noise. Producer of Wild and 12 Years A Slave, Bill Pohlad’s film could well be a metaphor for the highs and lows of production (whether music or film) and the personal cost of creativity, but Love & Mercy is above all a homage dedicated, not to the music, but to the troubled genius behind it.

Love & Mercy is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival

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