The Pet Sounds of “Love and Mercy” are Purr-fect

imageBill Pohlad’s Love and Mercy (B) is the unconventional telling of the life of musical wunderkind Brian Wilson, the producer mastermind behind The Beach Boys and one of the most acclaimed albums in history, Pet Sounds. Akin to Bob Dylan biopic I’m Not Here, which famously showcased a parade of performers playing the musician, this Wilson narrative casts its subject in two parts, representing a personality in fissure – Paul Dano as the crazed savant in his creative experimental peak in the ’60s and John Cusack as a man medicated into oblivion searching for redemption in the ’80s. The Dano sequences of Brian-Past are by far the strongest as the phenomenal actor displays the spark of creation, the cusp of genius and the brink of madness. He is vulnerable to his own demons and the fear of an abusive father and stunningly alive as a genius savant. Cusack doesn’t stand a chance in the weaker parallel plotline. The film is at its best putting music front and center and posits that the musician summons songs and sounds as a way to cope with and corral the voices in his head. For Wilson, the studio itself becomes a critical instrument that helps heal his soul. Paul Giamatti is effective as a stern therapist and Elizabeth Banks a delight as the love interest of Brian-Present. Flashbacks and fancy film stocks help buoy the character’s misunderstood vibrations. Music lovers will revel in the film’s unusual portal to finding rhythm, and admirers of good acting will enjoy the yin and yang harmony of the Dano/Cusack portrayal. A bit like A Beautiful Mind put to melody at the pace of West Coast cool, this biopic is definitely worth a spin.

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