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Title: Love & Mercy

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4.5stars:
Extras: :2.5stars:

HTS Overall Score:84

The Beach Boys are probably one of the most influential rock bands of all time, rivaling even the Beatles for popularity and longevity. There’s not a person alive who hasn’t heard at least ONE of their songs, whether that’s on the classic radio stations or just on some commercial, but they have at least HEARD them. Kids 50 years past the good old 60’s still buy their albums today, and no one out of the Beach Boys lineup is more famous than Brian Wilson. Wilson is famous, or almost infamous, for his mental health problems and subsequent mental breakdowns due to excessive drug use and suspected Paranoid Schizophrenia. After his famed fall from grace (sobbing uncontrollably in an airplane etc) the singer/songwriter spent the better part of three decades dealing with his issues, only to finally come out again in the early 2000’s to rise to new heights in his career. “Love & Mercy” deals with Brian’s life, telling two stories simultaneously, chronically the beginning of his problems in the 60s to mirror with the late 80’s/early 90’s where he finds new peace in the form of Melinda Ledbetter.

Back in the early 60s, Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) is living on top of the world. The Beach Boys have become a veritable wrecking machine in the Rock world, sending them into the throws of success. A bit too high on the success (as well as copious amounts of other things, which the movie unfortunately doesn’t touch on as much), Brian decides to pull out of touring in order to sit back and write songs for their next album. Upon the arrival of the rest of the band, Brian lays the new hooks on them only to be met with shock and amazement, as the Beach Boys upbeat tunes and lyrics have been traded in for some really strange, post modernistic stuff that seems totally foreign to the band. To make matters worse, Brian is dealing with voices in his head, a swirling cacophony of noise that threatens to send him over the deep end. Dealing with this is tough for both the other band members, as well as for Brian, but sooner rather than later the personal demons that he is facing brings the band closer and closer to the brink of destruction.

Simultaneously, we are fast forwarded to the late 80’s, early 90s, with a much older and more secluded Brian (John Cusack). He’s semi normal at this point, but under the influence of famous psychologist Eugene Landy (played to the hilt by Paul Giamatti) who is treating him for Paranoid Schizophrenia. Dr. Landy has been very successful at curing him of his drug excesses, but threatens to turn the reclusive singer into a shell as he over medicates him with enough pharmaceuticals to choke a horse and insinuates himself into every aspect of Brian’s life. Things take a change for Brian when he meets his soon to be wife, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a Cadillac salesmen who falls for Brian’s charms one chance afternoon. The road to recovery is not easy, for as Melinda and Brian have a rocky road ahead of them with his condition, it is made much worse by Dr. Landy trying to control EVERY aspect of their romance for his own betterment.

The narrative structure of the film is incredibly fascinating, blending both the 1960’s timelines with the older life of Brian Wilson through a constantly shifting array of scenes. The scenes shift quickly and without warning, never allowing the viewer to know whether the next few minutes are going to be told through Paul Dano, or whether we would be seeing John Cusack struggle with in his relationship with Melinda. It’s never off-putting, or confusing (well, let’s just say not confusing unintentionally), but rather fits the much fractured view of the world that Brian sees. Things come at him fast and furious, almost overwhelming him from the vicious attack, but we always find serenity in the music. Brian himself has been listed as saying that he gets lost in the music, completely and utterly lost, and the viewer gets to see and hear Brian’s descent into the maelstrom of tunes and chords and strange sounds that permeates the lyrical geniuses psyche.

I have to say that I was VERY surprised to see John Cusack in this role. I almost wrote “Love & Mercy” off as another cruddy DTV flick due to Cusack’s involvement, but am very glad I stayed to check it out. Cusack has gone down the road that others like Cuba Gooding Jr., Nicholas Cage, and a million other popular actors have gone down. Filling up the void with cheap paychecks, they churn out garbage film after garbage film. Cusack rises to the occasion though, giving a heartfelt and nuanced performance as the slightly addled aging rock star. He’s soft, almost kind, yet deeply disturbed in his mental battles, and Cusack’s performance has me giving a solid two handed clap. It’s been a while since I’ve seen him put this much effort into a job and it’s very refreshing. Elizabeth Banks is solid enough as Melinda, but she’s really doing what she always does. Giamatti is the standout here though, as he plays the legendary Dr. Landy as over the top and cartoonish as the famous psychologist supposedly was. Creepy and utterly terrifying, Giamatti steals every scene he’s in and had my skin crawling in disgust every time he opened his little mouth with that insipid grin of his.

“Love & Mercy” is not a 100% masterpiece, but it is one of the best biopics I’ve seen in quite some time concerning a musical artist. Dano and Cusack play their respective roles of the famed rocker to a perfect T, and the unusual narrative technique blends together to creative a fairly seamless experience. After watching, I had to go dig out my old Beach Boys albums and just saturated myself in the wonderful music that this lyrical and musical legend has created and appreciate one of the greatest musicians of the last century.


Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content and language

Video :4.5stars:
Due to Brian Wilson being a big fan of analog connections (as per the interviews on disc), director Bill Pohlad decided to shoot the movie entirely on film. In fact it’s actually a mixture of different types of film ranging from fine grained 35 mm down to some rough 16mm shots at times. Throughout the entire 2 hour runtime kept mentally pausing the movie and saying to myself “this just proves how clean and beautiful actual film stock can be!”. The older shots of young Brian are naturally a bit color graded in that yellow/beige tone that most modern film makers employ to portray a “time long ago”, while the 1980’s era is portrayed with very natural color tones and a FANTASTIC array of fine detail. Everything from the crystal blue water’s on Brian’s boat, to the ultra-white of his sterile looking “home all look magnificent to the naked eye. The black circles under John Cusack’s eyes and haggard look contrast starkly with the bleakly efficient and restrictive home environment that Dr. Landy provides, all the while showcasing fantastic black levels and picture perfect contrast. Frankly put, a simply mesmerizing transfer.

Audio :4.5stars:
“Love & Mercy” has been given a truly phenomenal 5.1 DTS-HD MA encoded audio track that really just hums with the energy of Brian Wilson’s music. Pieced together from audio recordings of Brian and the Beach boys intermingled with the regular track of the movie, the experience is nothing short of beautiful. Intensely energetic solos and combined performances fill out the surrounds channels with a variety of activity, and the entire listening station is filled with the wonderful harmonics of the singers. Bass is snappy and punchy, and really kicks it up a notch when you listen in through Brian’s personal “maelstrom” of sounds that he supposedly filters everything through. Dialog is crisp and clear, with good vocalization in the center channel. My only notice was that the volume was recorded a tad low and had to be boosted on the AVR just a tad.

Extras :2.5stars:

• Deleted Scenes
• "A California Story: Creating the Look of 'Love & Mercy'" Featurette
• "A-Side/B-Side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson" Featurette
• Audio Commentary

Overall: :4stars:

I was really expecting a Beach Boys biopic with “Love & Mercy”, but was really surprised, once I really dug in, with how much this is truly a Brian Wilson Biopic. The Beach Boys are forever entwined in Brian’s life, but “Love & Mercy” takes it much deeper, digging into the psyche of the famous rocker, taking us down a journey throughout his life to see just what makes the eccentric (and definitely ill) singer tick. I honestly didn’t think Cusack had it in him, but it was nice to see him back again in a non DTV movie, and his performance was exceptional. Audio and video wise this release is near impeccable, and as biopics go, one of my favorites in recent years. Definitely Recommended.

Additional Information:

Starring: John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Directed by: Bill Pohlad
Written by: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Lionsgate
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 122 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: September 15th 2015

Buy Love & Mercy On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Recommended

More about Mike

2,072 Posts
Thanks for the review. I enjoyed the Beach Boys music and I will have to check this out. I wasn't aware Brian Wilson had Paranoid Schizophrenia. Today, with all the in the face news, such things would be hard to keep away from the public.

HTS Moderator , Reviewer
5,742 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Thanks for the review. I enjoyed the Beach Boys music and I will have to check this out. I wasn't aware Brian Wilson had Paranoid Schizophrenia. Today, with all the in the face news, such things would be hard to keep away from the public.
well, he was DIAGNOSED with PS, but after Dr. Landy was kicked to the curb he was rediagnosed... which is one of the reason's he's doing so good today.
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