Blu-ray: Love & Mercy

LoveMercyDVDSTUDIO: Lionsgate | DIRECTOR: Bill Pohlad | CAST: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Kenny Wormald
RELEASE DATE: 9/22/15 | PRICE: DVD $19.98, Blu-ray $24.99
BONUSES: commentary, two featurettes, deleted scenes
SPECS: PG-13 | 122 min. | Biographical music drama | 1.78:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1/Dolby Digital 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall 

Love & Mercy is an unusual or, at the very least, unconventional bio-pic that takes a feature-length look at the genius of musical legend Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, while also exploring Wilson’s well-documented mental problems and erratic behavior.

Directed by Bill Pohlad and written by Oren Moverman (The Messenger), the film zeroes in on two stages of Wilson’s life—the mid-1960s, when he created The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, considered one of the greatest albums of all time, and the 1980s, when a fragile Wilson was recovering from an extended mental breakdown. During that latter time, Wilson was entering into a tentative romance with the woman who would eventually become his wife, while under the care of the radical and domineering psychiatrist Eugene Landy. To that end, Brian Wilson is portrayed by two different actors—Paul Dano (Looper) takes on Brian Past, while John Cusack (Map to the Stars) tackles Brian Future.

Paul Dano leads the group as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.

Paul Dano leads the group as Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy.

Best known as a producer of such films as 12 Years a Slave, Wild and the recent Time Out of Mind, Pohlad and screenwriter Moverman are successful in recreating the two fascinating eras in Wilson’s life. Alternating between the Sixties and Eighties, the overall feeling and textures appear to mirror Wilson’s state of mind during the times covered. The Sixties scenes unfold with lots of color, hand-held camerawork and montage, filled with overlapping music and dialogue meant to reflect Brian’s collage-like, voices-filled musical mind. (This works best during the Pet Sounds production sequences.) The Eightiess parts are far more restrained and fragile–like Wilson was–and more under the control of the performers, which in addition to Cusack include the always-game Elizabeth Banks (Magic Mike XXL) as Wilson’s future wife Melinda Ledbetter and Paul Giamatti (Saving Mr. Banks) as Landy, who’s all smiles until he creepily enforces his will over that of his superstar patient (whom Landy had wangled legal guardianship over!).

The quartet of leading players hit all the right notes, particularly Dano, who’s puffy nervousness and boyish enthusiasm perfectly capture the sense of discovery of the young Wilson as he wades into heretofore unknown musical waters, and Banks as the cool-headed So-Cal blonde whose gorgeous appearance hides her steely determination to emancipate the brilliant, damaged man she has fallen in love with.

Among the bonus features are an excellent half-hour featurette examining Wilson’s mental and musical history and the long development and stop-and-start story of bringing Love & Mercy to the screen, a journey that began some 19 years ago when the film was first proposed.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.