PG-13, 121 minutes
“Love & Mercy” is an unconventional biopic about an unconventional musician. Brian Wilson was a self-taught prodigy who composed Billboard Top 10 hits for the Beach Boys of increasing musical complexity, even as his personal life sank into a morass of drugs, harmful relationships and mental illness.
Director Bill Pohlad, a veteran producer stepping behind the camera, and screenwriters Michael A. Lerner and Oren Moverman, set the story in two distinct points in Wilson’s life, the mid-1960s and mid-80s, and cast two different actors to play him. The performances don’t match, deliberately so, since they’re showing Wilson as he descended into his two-decade period of purgatory, and then trying to climb out of it.
Paul Dano portrays Wilson as a young man looking to break out of the mold of flighty songs about girls, surfing and cars – much to the consternation of his brothers, bandmates and controlling dad. John Cusack plays him in middle age, struggling to break free of his torpor and reenter the world.
Both are terrific, as is Elizabeth Banks as the girlfriend who acts as Wilson’s touchstone, and Paul Giamatti as the stern therapist who weighs him down like an anchor.
It’s a stunning portrait of a man who made beautiful music while living a tragic existence.