Saturday 15 August 2015

Review: Love & Mercy

World of Blackout Film Review

Love & Mercy Poster

Love & Mercy
Cert: 12A / 121 mins / Dir. Bill Pohlad / Trailer
WoB Rating: 4/7

Although Bill Pohlad's twin-timelines in the study of Brian Wilson's life are interwoven, Love & Mercy really is 'a film of two halves'. The strand beginning around 1965 featuring Paul Dano as the eccentric visionary who pulled together The Beach Boys' acclaimed Pet Sounds album is a magnificent yet intimate portrait of a man suffering from conditions which weren't fully diagnosable at the time, the result of which (for better or worse) shaped the sound of the 20th century. This story has faux-archive footage, hand-held documentary style filming and a vibrant colour-palette to match. It is poignant. Moving. Incredible.

The strand beginning in the mid-to-late eighties featuring John Cusack as the older Wilson being heavily 'guided' by his combined producer, manager and carer feels like a Channel 5 made-for-TV afternoon movie. This ongoing narrative focuses on former-model and car-saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter and her bid to free Brian from his cycle of medication and manipulation. Visually blander but more emotionally demanding by necessity, it's a very good story in itself, but seems like a completely different film; and that contrast doesn't help Love & Mercy the way it should.

The real problem is that Dano and Cusack never feel like they're the same person, and since Dano sets the bar chronologically and their performances are interlaid, that's kind of a deal-breaker. Cusack's a capable and underrated actor, he's just not right for this role, playing Wilson as far more child-like at a later stage in his life than Dano (and while there's clearly a progression to Brian's condition that continues through the time-gap between the segments, the script doesn't account for the complete change in his personality and behaviour. And appearance. If feels like Cusack's playing Wilson in another film, not just another decade).

The 'first half' of the Love & Mercy focuses on Wilson the musician, his work with his brothers, and the strained relationship with their father/manager. While the music really is kept to a minimum in the later-strand (and let's be fair, it's the music which is drawing the audience here on a greater or lesser level), it becomes embarrassingly clear than while Paul Dano knows his way around a piano, Cusack doesn't. The editor's attempts to fudge over this cutting between shots of a pianist's hands vs everything-else only accentuate it more. It shouldn't matter of course, but it drives the wedge further between the two performances.

Despite an almost Kubrickian sequence at the climax of the film, the two threads never combine neatly enough, and each just ends up filling in details of a story you already know, like a succession of snapshots rather than a story-book. Oh, and well done to the closing caption-cards for saying that Wilson had been mis-diagnosed with paranoid-schizophrenia without shedding any more light on his actual condition.

As much as I've moaned about it (and how), Love & Mercy is worth seeing for the 1960s timeline, it's just a shame you can't leave halfway through.

Paul Dano is Oscar-worthy.
John Cusack is two steps away from 'going full-retard*1'.

Oh, and that bit at the end, where Melinda nearly runs Brian over and she's all like 'what were you doing in the road?'. He was on a pedestrian-crossing as the film clearly illustrates. If that's the actual dialogue from what happened, why would you leave it in the film revealing her to be an appalling driver? If it's not what was said, why the hell would you even add it?

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
Half of it is.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
Dano? Yes.
Giamatti? It's up there with his 'good' work.
Banks? Far better than she can usually do with the roles she takes.

Cusack? …

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it does, just not in the best way it could.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not really.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
No. it's really not that kind of film.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Well, Love & Mercy stars Paul Dano, who made an appearance in 12 Years a Slave, alongside Lupita Nyong'o, who stars in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Yeah, it's not a term I particularly like using, but it comes the closest to summing up his performance, unfortaunately.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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