Director Bill Pohlad and screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner have crafted a deeply affecting portrait of an artist in crisis. Blessed with an extraordinary talent, yet struggling to separate himself from his controlling influence of his legal guardian. The film is anchored by three superb performances in Dano, Cusack and Banks. The structure of events has been compressed for cinematic purposes, however the overall impact is not dulled. The less known about the Brian Wilson story might heighten the fascination of this character driven opus.
Brian Wilson (John Cusack/Paul Dano) meets his saviour Melinda Ledbetter (Elisabeth Banks) in a car dealership in the eighties. The film moves between the mid sixties and the eighties, the earlier period focuses on Wilson creating his masterpiece Pet Sounds and battling his emerging mental health issues. In the eighties we witness a heavily medicated Wilson controlled by his personal physician and legal guardian Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). The arrival of Ledbetter provides a catalyst for Wilson to emerge from the darkness, but not without the abusive Landy refusing to let go of his own personal money train. The narrative shifts back and forth between the events of the sixties and the eighties.
Cusack rose to prominence as Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything. He was twenty-three and the voice of a generation in 1989, who can forget the boom box raised to the heavens with Peter Gabriel’s ‘In Your Eyes’ playing to the love of his life, Diane Court. Edging fifty the choices to stretch his considerable talent have been limited in recent years, but the part of Wilson is a return to form. Dano as the young Wilson is his equal, essaying the brilliance and obsession of the mastermind behind the Beach Boys. The real revelation here is Banks, who has featured largely as a light comedian and most recently a successful director helping Pitch Perfect 2. What is essentially a supporting role is transformed by Banks into something more substantial.
The film moves at a leisurely pace and Paul Giamatti’s performance verges on the histrionic, but its powerful drama and Brian Wilson singing Love and Mercy over the closing credits is sublime.