Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy is a game of two halves: the good half features Paul Dano, in an awards-calibre performance, as the young Wilson at the height of his powers, when he created his masterpiece Pet Sounds (released in 1966) as his psyche simultaneously began to unravel; the bad half features an inexplicably cast John Cusack as Wilson in the late ‘80s and early ’90s, when he was under the ‘care’ of the sinister Dr Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).

The film cuts back and forth between the Dano/Wilson era and the Cusack/Wilson era, rather than having them follow each other chronologically, which helps the weaker Cusack section to an extent by allowing it to not have to stand on its own for an hour or so. Dano does an outstanding job with his impersonation of the troubled genius, which is bolstered as well by his general resemblance to Wilson. The Dano half includes a lot of fascinating recreations of Wilson working in the studio with the rest of the Beach Boys and some of his other notable collaborators, including LA’s crack session musicians The Wrecking Crew and lyricist Van Dyke Parks.

The disconnect between the Dano and Cusack halves of the film is profound. When watching Cusack as the child-like, quite bizarre middle-aged incarnation of the man, I never really felt that I was watching an impersonation/depiction of Wilson; he doesn’t resemble the Wilson of that period in the slightest physically either. This doesn’t feel anything like the deliberate and provocative off-kilter casting of Bob Dylan in the biopic I’m Not There; it just seems completely wrong-footed when held up against the excellent choice of Dano for young Wilson.

The period of Wilson’s life that Dano inhabits was photographed and filmed much, much more than the reclusive period of the ‘80s when Wilson was virtually held captive and was exploited mercilessly by Landy (Giamatti plays him as the utterly villainous counterpart of Wilson’s father Murry, the villain of the Dano section). This allows the filmmakers a lot of latitude when depicting his life and character in this strange period of his life (I would think Wilson a rather unreliable narrator of this era, and his autobiography published in 1991 was massively manipulated by Landy), but acknowledging this and letting it temper one’s reaction to that part of the film doesn’t make it feel any less inferior to the Dano section.

The film is a must see for Dano’s meticulous and intriguing performance, and for the wonderfully evocative depictions of his work in the studio in the ‘60s creating some of the most glorious pop music ever recorded. I’m giving the film 3 stars, an average of four stars for Dano’s section and two stars for Cusack’s.

Previous articleSix of the Best Movie Riots
Next articleFrightFest 2014: Unwanted Guests Part 4 – The inherent vices of Deadly Virtues
I've worked in entertainment product development and sales & marketing in the U.S., UK and my native Canada for over 20 years, and have been a part of many changes during that time (I've overseen home entertainment releases on VHS, LaserDisc, DVD and Blu-ray). I've also written and commentated about film and music for many outlets over the years. The first film I saw in the cinema was Mary Poppins, some time in the mid-60s: I was hooked. My love of the moving image remains as strong as ever.