Bad Vibes

Brian Wilson biopic brings the musician's troubles to life

Love and Mercy centers on the life of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and his overzealous psychotherapist, Eugene Landy. My brother knew Landy’s son, so I met Wilson at his house during the events seen in this first-rate biopic, the days when the famed musician was immobilized by emotional problems and hired a psychiatrist 24/7 to heal him.

What made a stronger impression than getting a very wary handshake from the supposed host was the way the Landys made themselves at home, as depicted here, but I never saw anything as sordid as the business here with Landy (played by Paul Giamatti) rationing Wilson’s hamburger, as the composer responsible for so many celestial songs whined for food.

If the much-bullied Wilson in those days looked like anyone, it was Ed Begley Jr., so one has to ignore the physical wrongness and deliberately “rain man”–like acting of John Cusack as the older Wilson. Wilson lost a ton of weight, but was he ever that lean? Working against Cusack’s recessiveness, Wilson’s second wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) turns on the Klieg lights all the way as his rescuer. She’s irresistible and accurate to the time portrayed, as an open, sweet, alluring soul, with a good spine on her.

The expert sound-mixing that gets us into the mind of Wilson is especially fine in Love and Mercy, with its ecstasies and terrors. We’re with the madcap genius composing “Good Vibrations” alongside a group of studio musicians—we see the iridescent shards before it became a stained-glass window. Using a hand-held camera, director Bill Pohlad convinces us that we’re present at the creation.

Paul Dano is superb as the younger Wilson. His scarily good impersonation of the troubled Beach Boy is one of the best performances of the year. I hope it’ll ensure a revival of Wilson’s gorgeous, lesser known music—and maybe also serve as a warning to those who trust their therapists too much.

‘Love and Mercy’ is playing wide release in the North Bay.