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Love & Mercy

LOVE & MERCY is a portrait of Brian Wilson, the creative mind behind The Beach Boys at two crucial moments in his life: at the peak of his musical career, when he slips into a psychological crisis and twenty years later, when he meets the car ...


The opening credits show a rapid montage of the Beach Boys’ first years but LOVE & MERCY, the new biopic about creative genius Brian Wilson, is not about their early cheery surf music. Bill Pohlad, producer of such films as BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, TREE OF LIFE, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, tells two concurrent pivotal episodes in Wilson’s life. One delves into Wilson’s artistic peak with the making of “Pet Sounds” and the “Smile” sessions that remained unreleased for 40 years and lead to Wilson’s nervous breakdown causing him to stay in bed for years. The second episode covers his meeting with car saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter Wilson who frees him from the claws of a manipulative doctor and guardian Eugen Landy (Paul Giamatti) who diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia and kept him doped up on high doses of pharmaceuticals. Paul Dano plays Brian Wilson as a slightly chubby, fragile genius who gets sudden anxiety attacks and is surrounded by naysayers when he expresses his wish to change the band’s sound to something more complex than tried and true rock ’n roll.

“That’s not a love song, that’s a suicide note,” says Brian Wilson’s father Murry after Brian plays him his latest song “God only knows.”

“If you should ever leave me

Though life would still go on believe me

The world could show nothing to me

So what good would living do me.”

Murry isn’t wrong. “God only knows” is indeed a love song but it is eerily close to sounding like a stalker’s suicide threat. All the songs on “Pet Sounds” have a dangerous undertone. Brian’s cousin Mike Love sees it the same way: “All the songs are sad! Even the happy songs are sad!” The music is filled with brittle, unorthodox harmonies conveying moments of happiness on the edge of chaos.

Bill Pohlad creates a tone of looming threat filled with melancholy dreaminess while also capturing the triumphant optimism that made those recordings possible. He presents the psychedelic mid-sixties with radiant, warm tones whereas the 1980s are radically different with cold, harsh surfaces and bluish-white or pastel tones; a sterile hell filled with deafening silence that Wilson is stuck in before Ledbetter brings him back to life.

LOVE & MERCY is a perfect film for fans, though whether it will appeal to people who prefer Beach Boys songs like “Fun, Fun, Fun” is unclear. Paul Dano and John Cusack are fantastic while Elisabeth Banks manages to make the attraction between a polished car saleswoman and a spaced out, hyper-sensitive musician believable. The actual heros are Atticus Ross who made the soundtrack and the sound mixer Edward Tise. Their powerful sound collages make the sensation of what it must be like to have too much music in one’s head feel tangible.

Tom Dorow

Translation: Elinor Lewy


USA 2014, 120 min
Genre: Biography, Drama, Music Films
Director: Bill Pohlad
Author: Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner
DOP: Robert Yeoman
Montage: Dino Jonsäter
Music: Atticus Ross
Distributor: Studiocanal
Cast: John Cusack, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Jake Abel
FSK: 6
Release: 11.06.2015




  • OV Original version
  • OmU Original with German subtitles
  • OmeU Original with English subtitles

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