When it comes to a discussion of the really, really greats of American popular music in the latter half of the twentieth century, I believe that Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys stands, if not alone, then certainly among the top three or four such artists. If you follow such things, you would be aware that Wilson, for all of his talents, has led a very troubled life, dealing with addiction and mental health issues. This is the story that is told in "Love & Mercy", and it is not always an easy story to watch.
In making this movie, director Bill Pohlad has chosen to cast two different actors to play Wilson. Paul Dano plays the 1960's version of Wilson. This is the Brian Wilson who struggles with a controlling and abusive father, and band mates who don't get it when he, Wilson, wants to move beyond summer-and-surfer music and expand into something greater. We see the greatness of Wilson who works tirelessly in the recording studio to make the album "Pet Sounds", and album that bombed when it was released, but has since been recognized as one to the great rock albums of all time.
Brian Wilson / Paul Dano / John Cusack
John Cusack, always a personal favorite of mine, plays Wilson in the 1980's. It is a time when The Beach Boys have become a nostalgia act, and Wilson himself has fallen deep into the grips of depression and under the controlling influence of charlatan doctor Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Into his life comes failed model turned car saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). It is Melinda who sees Landy for the controlling creep that he is and will work with the Wilson family to "rescue" Brian. Melinda and Brian would go on to be married and have five children. They remain married to this day, and it is with their approval that this movie has been made and this story told.
The movie moves back and forth between the life and times of the younger and the older Wilson, a technique that works very well. The acting by all four of the leads is superb. The decision to use two actors to play Wilson worked to perfection.
The music of The Beach Boys and Wilson, particularly "Pet Sounds", is in the movie, but if you are expecting a juke box movie, you will be disappointed. This is a story of a man struggling with a lot of inner demons who is being pulled in many directions by a lot of people, very few of whom have his interests at heart. It is well made and well acted. It is not always easy to watch, but it tells an important story about one of the great persons in his field. It is well worth seeing.
Oh, and stay for the credits. All of the credits.
Let me leave you with this from the man himself.