Blu-ray Review: Love & Mercy

The story of Brian Wilson remains one of the most intriguing tales of rock. He’s the genius of the Beach Boys using his version of surf music to keep the Beatles and the British invasion from wiping out American sounds on the radio. And then in the midst of what’s described as his musical masterpiece, he has a breakdown that leaves him in bed for years. When he finally emerged, he was a completely other person. The intrigue is still powerful after nearly half a century. Love & Mercy explores these times in Brian Wilson’s life with his genius requiring two actors to bring his emotional descent and ascent onto the screen.

The hip young Brian is played by Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) as a young man who is slowly losing grasp of things. First he’s getting overwhelmed by life on the road. He can’t handle being away from the studios. He knows the Beatles are getting ahead of him because he has to waste his time playing across the country. He has a panic attack on a plane flight. The band doesn’t suffer since Mike Love does most of the singing and Dennis Wilson gets the girls screaming. Brian needs to be in the studio making the hits. The older Brian (High Fidelity‘s John Cusack) appears as an emotionally fragile man who has little control over his life. He meets Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) at her car dealership. She quickly learns two things about him, he’s the guy from the Beach Boys and to date him means taking out his controlling psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Private Parts‘ Paul Giamatti) and his bodyguards. Brian takes her out to see the Moody Blues, Landy can’t let any whispers between them go unchecked.

There’s an amazing tension as Landy fights to keep control of Brian. This properly gets played against younger Brian’s battles with his father Murry Wilson (12 Years a Slave‘s Bill Camp). Both men are frustrated at their lack of success as musicians. Landy wants to be the reason why Brian gets to be a musical genius again. Murry wants to emotionally destroy his son who never let him be known as the genius behind the Beach Boys. Both men form an overwhelming tagteam of frustration for both version of Brian. On top of them, he’s got to deal with Mike Love (Jake Abel) who just wants more cars, girls and surf songs to play on the road. He’s not too happy with Pet Sounds and things get worse with Smile. Lately the Best Supporting Actor nod has gone to the bad guy. It’s a shame that all three actors can’t be voted as unit to win the Oscar.

Far as rock biopics go, Love & Mercy rates up there with The Hours and the Times about John Lennon and Superstar on Karen Carpenter at being able to balance the artist and the person. Having two different actors playing Brian isn’t a distraction since both Dano and Cusack reflect Brian of those times. This isn’t a competition of “who did Brian better?” as seemed to be the case in the Bob Dylan biopic He’s Not Here. There’s been two previous Beach Boys biopics (including one from Johnny Stamos) that don’t even get close to the emotional core of Love & Mercy. This is the perfect film for fans and people who don’t realize they’re going to be fans.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer show how much work the production team did to recreate the Brian Wilson’s life over the course of three decades. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that brings out the joyful harmonies found in Wilson’s music. There’s also a Spanish dub. The subtitles are in English and Spanish.

Digital version available through Ultraviolet.

Audio Commentary with director/writer Bill Pohlad and Executive Producer/writer Oren Moverman lets them talk about their passion for the project.

A California Story: Creating the Look of Love & Mercy (10:48) deals with having to go between three eras and two actors.

A-Side/B-Side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson (25:31) mixes the footage of the film with Pohlad admits that Brian Wilson’s life would be a miniseries. So he merged the two key moments in his life of the Smile sessions and Brian finding love. They mix the vintage footage and photos with how they recreated the moments. They discuss why they went with two actors instead of a makeup man aging the actor. Brian talks about the film.

Deleted Scenes (7:27) includes Brian meeting Phil Spector. He doesn’t get shot. There’s more time with Murray Wilson.

Love & Mercy is the Brian Wilson movie we’ve been waiting to enjoy.

lionsgate presents Love & Mercy. Directed by: Bill Pohlad. Screenplay by: Bill Pohlad & Oren Moverman. Starring: John Cusack, Paul Dano & Elizabeth Banks. Rated: PG-13. Running Time: 122 minutes. Released: September 15, 2015.

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