Love & Mercy Blu-ray Review
Although I’m usually a fan, music biopics traditionally follow a very tried and true formula. You start with a young, naïve, talented musician that just wants to make music, then you watch as they skyrocket to fame and enjoy the rock star lifestyle, then they flame out from drugs and hard partying, only to find redemption as the older, wiser, yet still talented musician. But LOVE & MERCY is a different type of music biopic and the focus of the film isn’t really the sudden success of the Beach Boys and their leader Brian Wilson, but it’s more focused on the mental illness Wilson suffered throughout his career. Director Bill Pohlad takes that one step further and splits up the story into two phases of Wilson’s life; the early years when he first develops the illness and the later years as he starts to come to terms with it. The result is a creatively told, yet unfulfilling look at a very under-appreciated musician.
The story picks up with a young Brian Wilson (Dano) starting work on what would become the Pet Sounds album and is intermixed with an older Brian Wilson (Cusack) meeting and falling in love with Melinda (Banks), who quickly realizes that Wilson is being taken advantage of by his doctor Eugene (Paul Giamatti). The younger scenes focus heavily on Wilson’s growing struggle with his mental illness as it starts to consume him, while the older scenes focus on how terrible Eugene is to Wilson. One issue is that half the movie has nothing to do with music and instead follows Melinda’s attempt to “save” Wilson from Eugene. The other half of the movie is more about the music, but the scenes involving the creation of the music are too few and far between. And even though Wilson is responsible for some of the greatest songs of all time, we never learn what inspired them. We only learned that he was obsessed with making them perfect.
As a hardcore Beatles fan, I’m very familiar with the pseudo-rivalry John Lennon and Brian Wilson had. As the story goes, Brian Wilson became obsessed with creating the greatest album of all time, drawing inspiration from The Beatles’ Rubber Soul. His obsession led to the album Pet Sounds, which then prompted John Lennon to the Sgt. Pepper album. It’s the stuff of music legend these days, but one that has been corroborated in several Beatles and Beach Boys biographies over the years. I point that out because that’s the kind of thing I find fascinating and one of the things that’s lacking in LOVE & MERCY. Although it’s touched on, it’s glossed over so quickly in favor of another scene of Paul Dano looking lost or John Cusack mumbling incoherently. So much of the focus of the film is on Wilson’s mental illness that it became his defining trait in the film. And this is a guy that many talented, famous musicians have called the greatest musical genius of his time. LOVE & MERCY seems to have forgotten that Brian Wilson was a genius lyricist and we had no insight as to where Wilson found the inspiration for his lyrics.
I definitely appreciated Pohlad’s desire to do something different with the music biopic genre and if that was his only goal, then he definitely succeeded. But it felt like he lost sight of the music at times and the music is what made Brian Wilson so great and I believe what ultimately saved his life. LOVE & MERCY needed more focus on the positives that Wilson brought to the world and less on the mental illness that almost took his life on several occasions.
Video: LOVE & MERCY looks great on Blu-ray.
Audio: The audio was fine.
Commentary with Bill Pohlad, Oren Moverman: These two do a very nice job of keeping the track moving while giving plenty of interesting insights. While watching, I almost forgot that most of the people in the film are still alive, so it was fun to hear how they went about depicting different characters.
Deleted Scenes (7:26): A handful of deleted scenes that don’t offer much to the film.
A California Story (10:47): This is dedicated to the set designs.
A Side/B Side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson (25:30): Easily the best feature, this looks at Brian’s life and is has a lot of archival interviews with Wilson.