As biopics go, Love & Mercy is more interesting than most. I liked how the two arcs and time periods of Brian Wilson’s life start off on their own but then slowly merge like converging highways. Having ’90s Brian in our heads as we watch ’60s Brian slowly devolve personally and psychologically, even as he peaks musically and famously, lends more dramatic irony to the film. Most Beach Boys fans probably already knew Wilson recovered and returned to music, but the film doesn’t let on until the credits (and fanboy postscript).
As for the Pet Sounds sessions, at times the process of inspiration to execution took on the feel of the movie version of Jersey Boys, where someone would say offhand “Big girls don’t cry…” and then we’d see the proverbial lightbulb over Valli’s head, and then cut to the band singing the fully formed “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” I suppose it’s just an efficient way to signify the creative process, but it’s also a bit disingenuous. Lightbulb moments do happen, but shotgun songwriting in my experience tends to be the exception and not the rule.
The movie luckily doesn’t overuse that trope; indeed, it dedicates good time to watching Wilson “compose” the album via the many studio musicians and strange new sounds. And the subsequent self-doubt and uneasiness about the album’s prospects for success will ring true to any musician or artist venturing into unorthodox grounds.
I’m grateful, above all, that it didn’t go full-bio. We learn just enough about Wilson’s upbringing to provide context for the story; and we see just enough of Older Brian to get a sense of his nadir. Put those two halves together and you’ve got a story that says more than if they were to actually include more.
More of that, please.
Sidenote: Paul Giamatti is a national treasure. He can be likably flawed (John Adams, Win Win), a colorful character actor (Saving Private Ryan, Parkland), and total sleezeball or straight-up villain, as he is in Love & Mercy and 12 Years A Slave. (Also, his middle names are Edward and Valentine, apparently. If he were around in the 1930s and ’40s he could have gone by Eddie Valentine and been a badass Edward G. Robinson doppelgänger. Come to think of it, he is today’s Edward G. Robinson.)