Saturday movie review (and giveaway!): Love & Mercy

Most baby boomers grew up on the music of the Beach Boys. But few of us, I think, know the story behind singer-songwriter Brian Wilson other than that he took to his bed for several years at one point. The dramatic biography LOVE & MERCY delves into Wilson's genius, his madness, his years under the physical, financial and psychological control of a therapist, and his miraculous comeback to music—and life—thanks to a woman who never gave up on him and eventually became his second wife.

 Love & Mercy

LOVE & MERCY (which I received free for review) tells the story of two pivotal periods in the life of Brian Wilson (with full cooperation of Brian Wilson and his wife Melinda, to whom he's still married). There's the early story—the "A side" story, according to the disc's special features—of the '60s when The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson's creativity were at their peak, when Brian Wilson began working on musical arrangements to take the band of his brothers and cousin in a new direction. The years when he created albums that didn't sell well but are now considered masterpieces: Pet Sounds and Smile. It was also the years when Wilson first began being plagued by mental illness. The brilliant Paul Dano, a young man who will never be typecast thanks to the diverse and amazing parts he chooses, masterfully plays Brian Wilson of this era.

The "B side" story is of the '80s, another life-changing time for Brian Wilson, just after being pulled from his nearly three-year stint in bed by an ultimately unscrupulous therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy certainly helped Wilson, literally, get him back on his feet again. But he went overboard, fully and completely taking over the man, his finances and care, alienating him from family and friends, and feeding into his psychological problems. Until Brian met Melinda (Elizabeth Banks). Melinda's persistence, support, and love eventually saved Wilson from certain tragedy at the hands of Landy.

Dano looks much like Brian Wilson; Cusack not so much. The filmmakers—director Bill Pohlad and writers Owen Moverman and Michael A. Lerner—knew that but physical resemblance was not their goal when casting the dual role of Brian Wilson. Emotional embodiment and capturing the madness and genius as well as the distinction that younger Brian Wilson was a far different man than older Brian Wilson. They hit it on the head with both the A-side Dano and the B-side Cusack. Viewers easily get into the head of each, it seems, feeling the painful, soul-deep sadness at their situations as well as the far less abundant moments of joy.

I must admit that many moments of the film felt a tad far-out and trippy to me. I believe that's the point, though, the goal of the filmmakers: for viewers to feel the madness, to hear the music much as Wilson did, and to be psychologically "interrupted" by the voices and more that kept him from being, for lack of a better word, normal.

Thank heavens, in a way, that Wilson wasn't normal, isn't normal. He's a masterful man with an amazing story and unmatched collection of work. He proves that having what may seem the best in life and career means nothing without kindness and support from family—and love and mercy, too.

LOVE & MERCY has completely changed the way I think of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys, and their music. No longer will the songs seem simple and lighthearted because I now know the pain and sadness and struggle for approval from the brothers' father behind the uplifting earworms. And I now understand it was sheer genius orchestration complex composition that masterfully made them seem simple. The Beach Boys—and Brian Wilson, in particular—were and are anything but simple.

An enlightening interview with the director and stars of LOVE & MERCY:

LOVE & MERCY (rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content and language) premiered theatrically in the U.S. in early 2015. The film—which you can learn more about at—is now available via OnDemand, and Blu-ray and DVD for the suggested retail price of $24.99 and $19.98, respectively. BUT...  I just so happen to have one DVD edition of LOVE & MERCY to give away to a lucky Grandma's Brief reader, courtesy Lions Gate Entertainment.


Lions Gate Entertainment has provided the opportunity for one Grandma's Briefs reader to win a LOVE & MERCY DVD ($19.98 msrp). Enter to win by leaving a comment below answering the question :

What is your favorite song from The Beach Boys?

Comments will be accepted through midnight MDT October 2, 2015 (US residents only, please); random winner to be drawn and contacted via email October 3. Prizing and shipping is the responsibility of the Lions Gate Entertainment representative.

Good luck!

Bonus: Enjoy this infographic from Lions Gate Entertainment celebrating the Pet Sounds album from The Beach Boys:

Sounds of Pet Sounds infographic 

Disclosure: I received this film and the giveaway opportunity free from Lions Gate Entertainment; opinions are my own. Giveaway prize and shipping is responsibility of the brand.