Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Kenny Wormald, Dee Wallace, Joanna Going, Erin Darke, Graham Rogers, Brett Davern, Max Schneider, Bill Camp, Nikki Wright
Written by: Michael Alan Lerner, Oren Moverman
Directed by: Bill Pohlad
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content and language
Running Time: 121
Date: 06/05/2015

Love & Mercy (2015)

4 Stars (out of 4)

In His Room

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Just as The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is one of the greatest rock 'n' roll albums of all time, Love & Mercy deserves consideration among the greatest rock 'n' roll movies of all time.

In the mid-1960s, Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) becomes increasingly weary of touring with his successful rock band, the Beach Boys, and arranges to stay home and work on the next album. It becomes "Pet Sounds," a masterpiece, but not a best-seller. The experience, linked with a conflict with his father, and various aural hallucinations, send Wilson into a deep depression. Decades later, an older Brian (John Cusack) is under the care of the controlling, tempestuous Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). He meets auto saleswoman Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) and falls in love, but Dr. Landy disapproves and keeps Wilson pumped full of drugs. Melinda decides that she loves Brian enough to fight for him.

Director Bill Pohlad, who produced the more traditional rock biopic The Runaways (2010), avoids biopic cliches by creating movie based on moments and sensations. An incredible musical score by Atticus Ross features an appropriately mixed-up tapestry of snippets of Wilson's music, and bizarre soundscapes replicate what it might have been like in Wilson's head during his aural hallucinations.

In the Paul Dano sequences, Love & Mercy shows the exhilarating act of creation, of making music. And in the more complex John Cusack sequences, creation becomes more fleeting, and Brian Wilson himself becomes a creative project. Dano is a dead ringer for Wilson, while Cusack captures Wilson's inner essence. Likewise, Elizabeth Banks gives a very strong performance, while Paul Giamatti gives a very wicked one. Co-writer Oren Moverman also co-wrote the somewhat similar, and equally great, I'm Not There (2007).

Lionsgate's near-flawless Blu-ray release is a perfect way to experience this movie, with its gorgeous music and equally gorgeous art direction, highlighting California in the 1960s and 1980s. Two smart guys, director Bill Pohlad and co-writer Oren Moverman, provide a commentary track. There are two behind-the-scenes featurettes and about 7 minutes of deleted scenes. It also includes an Ultraviolet digital copy. One marvels at all the potential Pet Sounds-related bonuses the disc might have had, but with a movie this good, we take what we can get.

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