celebrate the opening of his life story’s big screen treatment, Brian Wilson
recorded a new rendition of the title song with a group of school children to
benefit the music education nonprofit, Little Kids Rock. Happily, Wilson is now
in a position to give back. It was not always so. This was not due to a lack of
willingness, but more fundamental mental health issues and the unscrupulous
psycho-therapist who swooped in to exploit him. Both Wilson’s struggle to
re-establish control over his own life and his musical virtuosity are
dramatized in Bill Pohlad’s Love &
which opens this Friday in New York.
reports that Wilson stayed in bed for two or three years were more or less
true. He had very real (but treatable) mental health challenges, including depression
and schizophrenia. Of course, that made it considerably easier for a charlatan
like Dr. Eugene Landy to dominate every aspect of his existence. Utilizing a
split time line, Pohlad cuts back a forth between the initially heady days of
the Pet Sounds studio sessions and
the tightly regimented Landy years. It is not hard to spot at least one of the
root causes of Wilson’s depression. That would be his domineering and
dismissive father Murry.
its credit, L&M is not all about
the Landy scandals and a pat triumph over adversity. The best scenes of the
film—by far—follow Wilson recording Pet
Sounds’ instrumental tracks with the Wrecking Crew session players.
Frankly, it is cool to see those often uncredited veteran sideman get their due
in a film besides their own wildly entertaining documentary. In a lovely little
supporting performance as legendary drummer Hal Blaine, Johnny Sneed becomes a
personable, drily witty Obi-Wan figure for Wilson. Clearly, Pohlad and
screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner get the significance of
everyone involved in those sessions.
a strange way, Paul Giamatti’s Landy is much like Vladimir Chertkov, the
Svengali like historical figure he played in Michael Hoffman’s Tolstoy drama, The Last Station. Having had the
practice, he can portray a sinister manipulator better than anyone. Both Paul
Dano and John Cusack come across like emotionally stunted man-children as
younger and older Wilson, respectively, but they are duly reflecting reality.
Bill Camp also takes a decidedly villainous turn as Murry Wilson, but he stops
well short of eye-rolling Mommie
Dearest-Ossage County territory. As the spirited girlfriend determined to
rescue Wilson, Elizabeth Banks also brings notable energy to an underwritten
role, making many somewhat clichéd moments admirably watchable.
the entire film is a good deal better than the tabloid-driven TV movie it might
sound like. Not everyone in the Beach Boys’ world will appreciate it, most
likely including Mike Love, who as played by Jake Abel, comes across as a real
hit-craving jerkweed—but that’s his business. As a film about musicians and the
debilitating effects of mental illness, it is quite smart and honestly
rendered. Recommended for fans of Brian Wilson, the Wrecking Crew and Cusack
(in his most presentable film in years), Love
& Mercy opens this Friday (6/5) in New York, at the Chelsea Bowtie and
the AMC Village 7.
Labels: Beach Boys, Brian Wilson, Wrecking Crew