Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2015 Award Circuit Review: Love & Mercy Review

2015 Award Circuit: Love & Mercy Review
The 2015 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2015. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.

I have always been a big fan of the Beach Boys. The first babysitter I ever had growing up pretty much ingrained the music of the Beach Boys into my brain. That was the one band she always listened to, and every time I got into her car to go some place, the Beach Boys were always playing. I never sat down to research their upbringings. So I knew next to nothing when I sat down to watch "Love & Mercy," the movie whose primary focus is that of Brian Wilson and how he contributed to The Beach Boys.

I can't stand biopics. I always try really hard to give everything that comes out each year a fair shake, no matter what. But I am a human being with interests. Some genres interest me more than others, and its usually biopics that feel more like homework for this blog rather than a reaction to a particular hobby. I've stated time and time again that I feel most biopics feel like a Greatest Hits collection on somebody's life. I have felt in the past that most biopics feel like a skimming of a Wikipedia page or listening to somebody karaoke a old song. There is depth or emotion created when actors breeze through the life and times of a person, or group or band. There is no depth to their actions and little no emotion. Most biopics tread this line, and it is nauseating. The best biopics focus on a particular moment in someone's life and how that moment defined them. Those are usually better because the character and emotions are better fleshed out. 

How does "Love & Mercy" do it? Well, it tries to have it both ways, and the result is a movie that features lots of stuff to like and some stuff that annoys. The movie's main focus is Brian Wilson, who was the braintrust behind The Beach Boys. He wrote several of the songs and had huge success. He sadly was a man who suffered from auditory hallucinations. When Wilson grew up he was under the legal thrall of an abusive therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) and Wilson finds salvation in the friendship and eventual romance with a car saleswoman Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). She helps him get out of Landy's manipulation.

The film goes back and forth between Wilson's young years writing music for The Beach Boys and to his middle aged years under Dr. Landy. The young version of Wilson is played by Paul Dano and the older version by John Cusack. Do I think Paul Dano and John Cusack deserved their nominations for Golden Globes this past weekend? Yes. Both Dano and Cusack do extraordinary work, very provoking and elegant performances by both men. Both Dano and Cusack have always been good, and they display why they are so great here. Cusack in particular bounces off of both Elizabeth Banks (who gives a career-high performance) and Paul Giamatti with style. Set in a wonderful historic backdrop, it makes the movie ever more better.

The thing is, it feels like every other biopic, and sadly I feel the younger stuff isn't needed. Its Brian Wilson in his young years where the movie fails, because that's the artificial, tedium history of Brian Wilson. When the film jumps to Wilson as a middle-aged man being saved by the love of his life, that is really something. The film tries to cram so much history into its two-hour run time that it almost becomes overwhelming. The thing that keeps me watching is how incredible both Dano and Cusack are, but I'd much rather watch Cusack's movie compared to Dano's.

But they are both awesome, and the reason to see the movie is them. Elizabeth Banks should have received a nomination too, I thought. The backdrops of the 1950's, 60's, 70's and 80's is all very well done. I just wished the story wasn't such a hodge podge of history. 


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