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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Movie Review - Love & Mercy

Love & Mercy (2015)
Starring John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Giamatti
Directed by Bill Pohlad

Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys was a bit of a songwriting savant making the surf-centric group one of the most popular of the 1960s.  However, Wilson led a troubled life likely brought on by his father's disappointment in him despite his son's great success.  Following a panic attack on a plane, Wilson stops touring and spends his time developing what he thought would be the greatest album ever made -- Pet Sounds.  His intense focus on the album lost him favor with his fellow group members and began the downward spiral in the relationship with his wife.  A few decades later in the 1980s, Wilson finds himself under the care of abusive therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), but begins to fall for car saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) who feels that Wilson is being manipulated and over-medicated by Landy so that he can have control over Wilson's fortune.

The story of Love & Mercy spans both eras of Wilson's life with Paul Dano taking on the singer in the 1960s and John Cusack playing him in the 1980s.  The film's clever balancing act of showing us two aspects of the singer's life makes this biographical flick a lot more interesting than I ever thought possible with both eras getting equal play and sharing equal amounts of gravitas.  Dano rather astutely shows us the downward spiral Wilson experienced, while Cusack does a nice job of playing a man desperately trying to break out of his rigidly structured life set forth by his supposed caretaker.

The real star of the show here, though, is Elizabeth Banks in what is really a break-out role for her as the elder Wilson's girlfriend Melinda.  Banks takes what could have certainly been a throwaway role and gives Melinda depth, strength, and conviction that I wasn't expecting in the slightest.  While it's true that much of her role is reactionary to Wilson or Landy's actions, Banks imbues Melinda with so much intelligence behind her eyes.  There could have been a huge amount of sentimentality or sheer mushiness in a role that requires an actress to "save her beau" from himself, but Banks tells us more from her heartfelt, nervous, contemplative gazes than I've seen in many other roles this year.  It's truly a stellar performance and one that captivated me from the moment she stepped onscreen.  If anything, it was slightly detrimental to the earlier Brian Wilson story because Banks is so good here that I wanted the story to pivot back to her.

Love & Mercy is a nicely directed, nicely written film that definitely deserved some awards attention, but failed to garner any.  If anything, see it for Elizabeth Banks who proves that she's much more of a talent than many of us thought, but even taking Banks out of the equation, the flick is a biopic that lacks much of the sentimental gooeyness that often accompanies the genre.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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