The above video clip is the movie trailer for the 2015 film, Love & Mercy, about Brian Wilson of the 1960s Beach Boys rock group. Wilson is the singer-songwriter-composer known, most famously, for helping lead and musically inspire the Beach Boys through their phenomenal rise in the 1960s. While many regard Wilson as the genius composer, arranger, and studio whiz behind the group’s much-loved music, he also had his personal demons, which become a focal point in this film. The Beach Boys early success is chronicled in the film up to the point where Wilson has a breakdown and quits touring with the group to focus on studio production, vowing to create “the greatest album ever made,” which becomes Pet Sounds of 1966. In the film, Wilson is shown losing his grip on reality as his drug and psychedelic experiences give rise to voices in his head and more serious mental duress and odd behavior.In something of a novel approach, Wilson is played by two separate actors in the film, each marking distinct periods of Wilson’s life, reflecting his respective psychological condition in those times — well and not well.
Love & Mercy director Bill Pohlad, in a May 2015 comment to Michael O’Sullivan of the Washington Post, described the film as “the story of a hypercreative musical genius reaching his peak — really, his most creative period. And then he falls off the edge.”
Wilson actually went through a period of about 20 years of ups and downs with his various drug problems and mental health issues, and repeated rehabilitations and periodic lapses. Unbeknownst to those around him, Wilson suffered from a psychological condition later determined to be “bipolar schizoaffective disorder.” But for many years, no one knew quite how to help him. In 1988, after the Beach Boys were inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, he began a fuller recovery and a solo recording career which he has continued though the 2010s.In the film, director Bill Pohlad tells the Brian Wilson story by cutting back and forth between the “two Brians” during his respective life periods of success and struggle. Actor Paul Delano plays Wilson in the early years, capturing Wilson’s creative period and his crash-and-burn descent. By 1973, in real life, Wilson had gone into major seclusion, a time after his father had died and he faced other problems. During this period, there were times when he barely made it out of bed, prompting family members to seek help for him.
In the film, now some years later in the 1980s when Wilson is a middle-aged man, he is played by actor John Cusack. At this point Wilson is shown as a broken, confused man under the hold of medical therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy, played by Paul Giamatti who dispenses for Wilson a pharmacological regimen and dictatorial control over his every move. In the film, during an outing to buy a Cadillac automobile with the ever-hovering Dr. Landy, Brian meets his second wife to be – Melinda Ledbetter, played by Elizabeth Banks – she, the Cadillac saleswoman. The two strike up an intense relationship which the film explores. But Melinda also becomes determined to save Wilson from Dr. Landy’s manipulation. In real life, Wilson’s family would win a court order freeing Brian Wilson from Landy’s grip. (Although not depicted in the film, Landy faced state ethical charges and surrendered his license in California and was also forbidden from further contact with Wilson. Landy died in 2006.).Love & Mercy is filled with Beach Boys and Brian Wilson music, its title taken from a 1988 Brian Wilson song of that name. Those who grew up with Beach Boys music will definitely want to see this film, and those not knowing much of Wilson’s recording genius or his psychological difficulties, will be enlightened on both counts.
Love & Mercy is directed by Bill Pohlad, whose past credits, as executive producer, include: Brokeback Mountain, A Prairie Home Companion, and Food, Inc., and as producer, Into the Wild and 12 Years a Slave. In 2012 he was nominated for an Academy Award as producer for The Tree of Life. Love & Mercy is also produced by Pohlad, along with Claire Rudnick Polstein and John Wells. The writers are Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner.
Love & Mercy’s premiere screening came in September 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it received early acclaim from reviewers and audiences. It also had early screenings at the South By Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas and in Europe at the Berlin International Film Festival. Its public release in the U.S. would not come until June 2015.The film’s unusual approach to biography in using two actors to portray the main character, was predicated upon the view that Wilson was actually “like two different people” before and after his mental difficulties. The original film score by composer Atticus Ross has also received praise, as have those scenes portraying Wilson’s genius at work in the recording studio during his earlier years. Brian Wilson himself has called the film “very factual,” and his wife, Melinda, appears to have played an important role in helping guide its accuracy.
A film on Brian Wilson’s life titled “Love & Mercy” was first proposed in 1988. It was planned to star William Hurt as Wilson and Richard Dreyfuss as Dr. Landy. But for whatever reasons, that film was not advanced. However, two made-for-TV films were produced: Summer Dreams: The Story of The Beach Boys, in 1990, and, The Beach Boys: An American Family, in 2000. These films were criticized for historical inaccuracies. Another 1995 film on Wilson, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times, by Don Was, received better marks. One book that came out in early 1991 appears to have muddied the waters on Wilson – Wouldn’t It Be Nice: My Own Story, “by Brian Wilson with Todd Gold,” which many believe was actually ghost-written, in whole or part, by Dr. Eugene Landy to tout his services in “saving Brian.” In 2006, the earlier Hollywood project on Wilson was briefly revived, but went nowhere. Then in 2011, the Love & Mercy film project was announced with Bill Pohlad directing.In 1997, Pohlad had become quite taken with the Beach Boys music, and in particular, The Pet Sounds Sessions boxed set. That music prompted him to take a deeper look into the life of Brian Wilson, and he began thinking about a film. He later collaborated with John Wells and Claire Rudnick Polstein who were attempting to make their own Beach Boys film, but instead became producers for Love & Mercy. Reportedly, Pohlad financed the undertaking with his own money.
After the Toronto screening in September 2014, Lionsgate Entertainment paid $3 million for film’s North American rights, with Roadside Attractions doing distribution. In other countries, Lionsgate will handle the release.
Among early reviews, The Hollywood Reporter gave Love & Mercy a favorable nod, calling it “a deeply satisfying pop biopic whose subject’s bifurcated creative life lends itself to an unconventional structure.” The same reviewer added, however, that Cusack’s lack of a physical resemblance to Wilson “will be a stumbling block for some fans, but those who can get beyond it will find a very fine film about a singular artist.” One theatrical poster for the film ran a favorable Washington Post blurb at its top that read: “Extraordinary. Visionary. Brilliance on Brilliance. Paul Dano and John Cusak mesmerize in a groundbreaking dual performance as Brian Wilson.” Another poster, shown above, appearing near the film’s release, used the tag line: “His Music Shaped Our Lives. Love Saved His. The True Story of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.”Maclean’s magazine of Canada thought the film edged into glorification of Wilson, claiming more hagiography than biography, but also noted that “the soundtrack is unimpeachable,” and that Pohlad “offers a riveting look at how Wilson crafted such aural wonders as ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Good Vibrations’.”
The film’s public release was scheduled for June 5th, 2015. In addition to the film, a book titled, I Am Brian Wilson, was also slated for release, and a soundtrack of the film’s music from Capitol Records was also planned.
Beach Boys Story
See also at this website two related Brian Wilson/Beach Boys stories. The first, “Early Beach Boys, 1962-1966,” recounts the phenomenal rise and early recording and touring history of the Beach Boys, lists the group’s hits, subsequent albums, TV appearances, and more. The second story, “Early Beach Boys, Pt.2: Six Songs,” includes six full songs and historical narrative for each from the 1963-1966 period: “In My Room” (1963), “Don’t Worry Baby” (1964), “All Summer Long” (1964), “When I Grow Up” (1964), “The Warmth of The Sun” (1964), and “God Only Knows” (1966).
For additional music stories at this website visit the “Annals of Music” category page. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Date Posted: 4 June 2015
Last Update: 5 July 2015
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jack Doyle, “Love & Mercy: Brian Wilson Film,”
PopHistoryDig.com, June 4, 2015.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Love & Mercy Website, LoveAndMercy Film.com.
“Love and Mercy (film),” Wikipedia.org.
John DeFore, “Love & Mercy” Film Review, “Paul Dano and John Cusack Play Brian Wilson at Different Ages in Bill Pohlad’s Pop Biopic,” The Hollywood Reporter, September 7, 2014.
Barry Hertz, “TIFF 2014 Diary: Getting Good Vibrations with Brian Wilson,” Maclean’s, September 9, 2014.
Tatiana Siegel , Borys Kit, “Toronto: Lionsgate Nabs Beach Boys Biopic ‘Love & Mercy’,” The Hollywood Reporter, September 9, 2014.
Ann Hornaday, “At Film Festival, Bill Murray Makes a Splash, but Brian Wilson Biopic Steals the Show,” Washington Post.com, September 13, 2014.
Kory Grow, “Brian Wilson Faces Manipulation in New ‘Love & Mercy’ Trailer; Paul Giamatti Plays Controlling Psychiatrist in Clip’s Intense Scenes,” Rolling Stone, April 14, 2015.
Michael O’Sullivan, “Finding Beach Boy Brian Wilson,” WashingtonPost.com, May 29, 2015.
Michael O’Sullivan, “2 Actors Explore Wilson’s Talent, Pain,” Washington Post (print version) Sunday, May 31, 2015, Arts & Style, p. E-5.
Alan Light, “In ‘Love & Mercy,’ Brian Wilson Is Portrayed by John Cusack and Paul Dano,” New York Times, May 29, 2015.
Mark Dillon, “Beach Boy Brian Wilson Back in the Spotlight with a New Movie, a New Album and a Summer Tour,” TheStar.com (Toronto), May 31, 2015.
Robert Windeler, “The Beach Boys Hang 15; That’s 15 Years, and Better Still, Brian Wilson’s Back from His Crack-Up,” People, Vol. 6 No. 8, August 23, 1976.
“Brian Wilson,” Wikipedia.org.
“The Beach Boys,” Wikipedia.org.
“The Beach Boys,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Romanowski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp.51-54.
Alexis Petridis, “The Astonishing Genius of Brian Wilson,” TheGuardian.com, June 24, 2011.
For a detailed musical/technical analysis of Brian Wilson/Beach Boys’ songs, see Greg Panfile at “The Mind of Brian,” a series of detailed musical reviews of at least nine Beach Boys’ songs. This link takes you to his review of “In My Room.”