Love & Mercy
Christian Movie Review
The latest biopic to cover an American music icon — songwriter and singer Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys — looks at the following periods of Wilson’s life (according to IMDB’s plot): “In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece [Pet Sounds]. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.”
It’s certainly one of the best music biopics ever made. It deserves its 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it’s getting an 8 out of 10 from me. (To give some perspective, a perfect 10 in my rating system is only reserved for the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats — i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc. An 8 makes it easily one of the best films of 2015 if not one of the best in its genre.)
We’ll get to why, but first…
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance for this PG-13-rated film…
Sexual Content/Nudity/Themes of Sexuality and Romance: A man and woman embrace and kiss. Sex is implied. No nudity, though a naked woman’s bare back is seen as she gets out of bed, so the scene has a suggestive/sensual feel.
Violence/Gore: A father is shown hitting his young son (probably middle school age) repeatedly.
Language: A couple half-spoken f-words. Quite a few s-words throughout the film and quite a few misuses of Jesus’ name and God’s name paired with the d-word, especially with all the scenes with the often angry Eugene Landy. A particularly belligerent scene with Landy includes a tirade in which he calls a woman a b-word and a slut, among other swear words.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: Brian Wilson takes LSD, and he describes his experience afterword. Mike Love gets angry at Brian because he suspects Brian is writing a song about drugs. Plenty of drinking and some smoking. Wilson is over-medicated on psychotropic drugs, and we see the damaging effect. Also, the film’s depiction of drug use is not, in my opinion, a glorification of it. We are clearly shown the destructive consequences of Brian’s drug addiction that came from the initial dabbling with LSD and other drugs earlier in Brian’s career. In addition, Brian explains that he has worked extremely hard to break out of the drug addiction and become permanently clean.
Intense/Frightening Content: The shady psychiatrist (played amazingly by Paul Gamatti) is downright creepy in a very controlling, cult-like way. You can almost see him forming his own cult and controlling the lives of hundreds of people. The film is so well made that you begin to feel like you are trapped in Landy’s presence and really want to get away from him — almost like a feeling of claustrophobia. These elements give the film almost the feel of a psychological thriller.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
This film can be wildly “experimental” in some ways, which — depending on your taste for the subtle, unsaid, deeply subtextual nature of art films — will be a good or bad thing. But whether or not you have a taste for that style of film making, there’s one thing the film does with exceptional power: it recreates the early world of The Beach Boys, especially the scenes showing The Beach Boys building their masterpieces in the studio, with extraordinary authenticity and emotion. And if you’re a fan of “Pet Sounds” in particular, “Love & Mercy” is as much about the making of “Pet Sounds” (and to a limited extent “Smile”) as it is about Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys.
Worldviews, Subtext, Symbolism, Themes of Redemption, Social Commentary, Etc.
The film dives deep into the psychological troubles of Brian Wilson. He hears audible voices, and he doesn’t know why it’s happening. It’s terrifying for him, and the film pulls you into those emotions.
From a broad perspective, as the film bounces back and forth with perfect agility between the struggling but artistic triumph of Brian Wilson of the ’60s (played brilliantly by Paul Dano) and the wholly broken Brian Wilson of the ’80s (played brilliantly by John Cusack), we see a portrait come into view: the life of a complex, fragile, deeply flawed but very determined and gifted soul. It’s a portrait — framed by the saturated blues and yellows of the California Dream — of the brokenness and beauty of humanity all tumbled and tossed together with tragic disorder and eventual joy.
It’s also a story of what interdependence means, and why that crucial give-take balance in relationships is so important. You might argue that the Brian Wilson of the ’60s is the picture of intense independence, som
etimes stubbornly so, as he carves out his own creative path (sometimes at the expense of the preferences of others). The Brian Wilson of the ’80s is the picture of intense co-dependance — that polar opposite of independence where you condition yourself to be so dependent on another person, whether by your design or theirs, that it eventually enslaves and destroys you.
And then in walks Melinda.
She is the heart of Brian’s redemption story. Played so wonderfully by Elizabeth Banks, the character Melinda is the knight in shining armor who storms with courage into great darkness. I won’t give any spoilers away, but she’s definitely the hero of the story — though not in a way that emasculates Brian Wilson. All PG-13 elements aside (disclaimer: just because I love a movie doesn’t mean I embrace everything in it), the relationship between Brian and Melinda presents a wonderfully warmhearted glimpse of what true interdependence — that true give-and-take, loving partnership — should look like in relationships.
The selflessness of Melinda in the story is also inspiring. It presents subtle but powerful message that sticks with you. She sees how almost everyone in Brian’s life — from his therapist to the fans who want his autograph — want a piece of him. They all want something from him. She didn’t want to be another person who wanted something from him. Instead, she put her self-interests aside and did what was truly best for Brian. It’s a beautiful picture of unconditional, no-strings-attached love.
And the film makers and actors just captured all of those golden moments to perfection.
Conclusion: It’s a Biopic Masterpiece
Bottom-line? Sure, I’m not saying the film is perfect or that all of its PG-13 content is admirable or edifying. But “Love & Mercy” is a cinematic masterpiece — beautifully acted and crafted with tender loving care. If you’re a fan of Brian Wilson’s music, this movie will be one of the most memorable experiences you have in a theater.
My rating for “Love and Mercy”: [usr 8]
Note about my ratings:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between (but not always — as is the case with “Spy”) 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher.
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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