By Kurt Wolff
Biopics are a dime a dozen these days. But a story that deep-dives into the creative process, that isn’t afraid to linger over awkward moments or even embrace silences? That’s a whole lot more interesting.
Love & Mercy, the new film about Brian Wilson, is in no way a straightforward biopic. Yes, it focuses on true events from the life and times of the Beach Boys cofounder, singer and songwriter, but it’s not the sort of story that just ticks off life events and moves on. Instead, director Bill Pohlad has chosen some key events for deep focus.
Specifically, the film deals with two significant eras in Wilson’s personal history. The first revolves around the making of the Beach Boys’ classic 1966 album Pet Sounds, when Wilson was no longer performing with the band and instead concentrating on studio work with L.A. session maestros the Wrecking Crew. For music fans, these extremely well crafted scenes (shot in the very studio where the original sessions took place) are worth the price of admission alone, as they details the process of taking ideas from a person’s head and translating them into notes, chords, riffs and, eventually, songs.
The second comes a couple decades later, when Wilson is now under the disturbing ‘care’ of Eugene Landy (played frighteningly well by Paul Giamatti). This in fact is where the film opens, showing Wilson in an L.A. car dealership, where his future wife Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) is a salesperson. As the film then goes on to show, it’s Ledbetter who helps Wilson find a way out from under Landy’s destructive influence.
Which was an extremely difficult task. “When he was living, he was really a tough guy,” Wilson says of Landy. He says that the first time he saw Giamatti’s portrayal of him on screen he was “scared to death.”