Saturday, July 23, 2016

Now on Amazon Prime: Love & Mercy (2015)

Love & Mercy (2015) - Directed by Bill Pohlad; Written by Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner; Starring Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti.

By Kenny Howell

It's kind of strange that Love & Mercy kind of came and went in the theater, only opening in a few arthouse cinemas, and then on to home viewing.

It is based on one of the most famous bands in modern music history, The Beach Boys, particularly Brian Wilson, has a main character battling a mental health problem and oppressive forces, all while being in love.

That's the usually the recipe for a big hit, especially Oscar bait, but when you see Love & Mercy, which you should, you can kind of see why it didn't hit it big. Mostly because, like Brian Wilson, it bucks the trend.

There is no great redemption moment in Love & Mercy, and the stories of his love with Melinda Ledbetter, as well as his battles with the world's worst therapist Eugene Landy, often take a backseat to what Brian Wilson was truly about, his music.

I will confess that I think Pet Sounds is the greatest album ever made. So to see the creation of that album laid out in pretty good detail by director Bill Pohlad, just made me giddy. Pohlad gives us plenty of time with the sessions for Pet Sounds, Good Vibrations and Smile. It's much welcome because while the love story with Melinda is the driving part of the story, it's also the least interesting. I would rather see Wilson arguing with Mike Love about the music, and know that Mike Love is nearly always wrong.

The third part of the story after the music and Melinda is the controversial, eventually deemed illegal, treatment by Dr. Eugene Landy, played here with perfect sliminess by Paul Giamatti. Landy had the idea that his patients needed to be under 24 hour surveillance so that he can make sure they make no mistakes in their rehabilitation. As bad as that is, he also misdiagnosed Wilson as a paranoid schizophrenic, when in fact he had schizoaffective disorder. That means his treatment not only didn't work because it is stupid to begin with, but also because he didn't even get the diagnosis right. Melinda helps Brian realize he needs to break free of Landy's dictatorial rule and get back to his life.

Love & Mercy is far from perfect, but Pohlad is smart and realizes why there is even a film about Brian Wilson to begin with, his music. When we are listening to that terrific soundtrack and seeing how genius Wilson's work was during the period, Love & Mercy truly shines.

Love & Mercy is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Rating: ***1/2

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