Love & Mercy. God Only Knows What Musical Genius Takes

Love-and-Mercy-Poster-2015En route to a preview screening of Love & Mercy, The Sloth was shocked to discover that a junior colleague in attendance “didn’t really know” The Beach Boys. Granted, said colleague was probably born when The Sloth was guzzling K Cider and shoe-gazing to Suede the first time round, but still. Good Vibrations is something babies can gurgle on emergence from the womb, no?

Having given said colleague a stern dressing down, we settled back. Love & Mercy is a dramatisation of the life of Brian Wilson, roundly acknowledged to be the creative force behind The Beach Boys and a bona fide musical genius. Split between his early career in the band and his later struggles with mental illness, it eschews a chronological approach to instead jump back and forth in time, with the younger Wilson played by Paul Dano and the older by John Cusack.

We first meet an older, shaky, ill Brian buying a Cadillac from attractive car dealer Melinda (Elizabeth Banks).  Striking up a rapport, Brian asks her out. But dating Brian is no simple matter. Pumped full of drugs and monitored 24/7 by the oppressive, controlling Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), it soon becomes clear that Brian’s life is not his own.

It’s easy to assume Brian Wilson’s later troubles resulted directly from 60’s ‘excess’ but, as Melinda gets to know Brian, so do we. We see the young Brian, clearly a fragile and sensitive soul to begin with, derided, mocked and tormented by a cruel father. We see the older Brian verbally abused and manipulated by Dr Landy. Fortunately for Brian, Melinda decides to do something about it.

And throughout it all we have the music. Paul Dano is stunning as the young Wilson, doing his own playing and singing in a manner that doesn’t just mimic, but somehow captures his spirit. A semi-improvised scene of a young Wilson on a creative high, frantically directing a wonderstruck studio full of musicians to play in entirely new ways, reminds us just how innovative he was.

Love & Mercy is a captivating, emotional tribute to genius and a warning note to the price it can cost. If you have any interest in music, any at all, go see. Then dig out your copy of Pet Sounds and play it with new reverence. Oh, and my junior colleague? He absolutely loved it. Mr Wilson, your legend lives on.

UK release 10 July

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