As a child, there wasn’t a roadtrip my family took without the Endless Summer cassette playing our way across the endless terrain that my dad insisted on driving. Sure, there were plenty of surf classics on there, but my brother and I were always partial to some of the mid-tape songs such as “Girl Don’t Tell Me.” I bring that up to show that even at eight-years-old, I was appreciating the complexity of the music of the Beach Boys, not just the surf cheer. That meant that going into Love & Mercy my expectations were ridiculously high.
And the movie exceeded them.
Love & Mercy tells the story of Brian Wilson, the brain behind the Beach Boys. Instead of focusing on his entire life or one isolated incident, the movie takes an unconventional biopic route, casting two actors as Wilson. A young Wilson (Paul Dano) struggles through writing Pet Sounds, while an older Wilson (John Cusack) struggles with being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. I say “while” for a reason. Bill Pohlad doesn’t opt to tell the story chronologically, rather he weaves the before and the after in a way that brilliantly reveals the middle.
It’d be ridiculous to try to talk about this movie without first talking about the performances from the two leads. Both of them play a version of Wilson that’s incredibly enjoyable to watch, and I honestly can’t decide which performance I think is better. Small distinctions like that from me wouldn’t matter anyway, what does matter is how captivating and how incredible they both are. Watching and hearing Dano feels like listening to the Pet Sounds 30th anniversary discs I’ve played so many times. Watching Cusack as a broken man is utterly heartbreaking.
Of course the music is a huge part of the story, and the moments that Pohler chooses to show couldn’t be any better. He somehow captures the frenetic energy of this magnificent mind who crafted some of the most iconic songs the music world has ever seen. And that alone is a commendable feat.
When Love & Mercy ended, I sat through the entire credits, not to see if Mike Love was going to have a role in Avengers 3, but rather because I wished the movie hadn’t ended. If I had been at a theater where it was going to play again, I would’ve hid behind a seat so I could have watched it over and over again. I can say without a doubt that Love & Mercy is one of the best music films in recent memory.