The mind of a genius is a tricky thing. The mind of musical genius Brian Wilson came first with happy, harmony laden surf music with the band The Beach Boys, made up of three brothers a cousin and a friend, literally whipped to success by the Wilson brothers father, Murray.
For this loose biography of Brian Wilson, two actors, Paul Dano and John Cusack play him as a young man and as an older man who is nearly completely controlled by Dr. Eugene Landy, brilliantly and sleazily played by Paul Giamatti.
Dano is scarily good as the young man enjoying all the success hit records brought in the 1960s. The Beach Boys — Brian, his brothers Dennis (Kenny Wormald) and Carl (Brett Davern), cousin Mike Love (Jack Abel) and a friend of Brian’s Al Jardine (Graham Rogers), were compared with The Beatles in terms of chart busters.
Brian started to produce the band’s records, hears music in his head all the time and sometimes it drown out everything else. The first sign of a problem with the young man is an anxiety attack on an airplane. He begs out of the band’s Tokyo tour. After he hears The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” he has an idea for an album with a cohesive story. He promises the band they’ll hear tracks when they return.
He’s hired session musicians and they work tirelessly on what will become “Pet Sounds.” Love, of all the band, is vocal about his dislike of the project and isn’t surprised that it doesn’t sell in the US. He cares even less about the world wide success of the album. Even The Beatles think Pet Sounds is the greatest album ever recorded
Despite all the praise Brian heard, all he hears is Love saying the album is bad.
The story moves between the two actors, with Dano falling apart in front of everyone and Cusack playing him at first drugged out and then trying to get better. Dano gets all the scenes of crafting songs like “God Only Knows,” and most beautifully, “Good Vibrations.” His tormenting voices come right through the headphones. His treatment for his problems include pot and LSD. The bad has meeting after meeting to get Brian on board, but he drifts further and further away, until he just stays in bed.
The Cusack Brian wants to buy a Cadillac and salesman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) comes to help him. As they sit in a Fleetwood, he closes the doors and locks them, pointing out his bodyguard. He’s hesitant to speak and blurts out that he lost his brother and though he died two years ago, he is still broken up. The salesman isn’t nervous until the bodyguard and a pudgy little man friend ask Brian to get out, making sure Melinda knows Brian is Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and he is Dr. Eugene Landy. Still in the car, Brian asks for a pen and paper, jots something down, gives the pen and paper back but keeps her card. They get out of the car, Brian tells her he wants the car and Landy butts right in with “Of course we expect a good deal. “You do the paperwork.”
Brian left the card in the car. On the back he wrote, “Lonely. Scared. Confused.”
Landy is obviously in his control of Brian. He screams at him in front of others, is at first friendly, to Melinda, letting the two go on dates. When on a sailboat owned by Landy’s son, they jump the ship and swim to his Malibu house. Right after this, an unplanned visit goes horribly wrong. Maid Gloria (Diana Maria Riva) shows Melinda a glass jar full of drugs Brian doesn’t take but doesn’t tell. The whole time Landy is screaming at Brian.
Landy shuts Melinda down, telling her Brian can no longer see her.
She calls Brian’s family to tell them what is happening.
In a key scene, Brian asks Melinda to come to him at the recording studio. She tries to tell him if he left with her, everything could change. Brian confesses the doctor is his legal guardian. When the doctor himself shows up, the battered man is incapable of making a choice.
Sometime later Gloria gives Melinda a much edited copy of Brian’s will, one that shows Landy taking full advantage of the control he has on the over medicated man. Melinda gives it to the family to sue Landy, and they do.
The music in this will at times make you smile, later hearing just one part of the deeply layered music in a hit later is surprising.
“Love & Mercy” is an amazing tale of one man’s journey from dark into light and all music fans should check it out.