Love & Mercy chronicles famed Beach Boys founder and songwriter Brian Wilson. Like his music, Love & Mercy is as schizophrenic — or schizoaffective to be more specific — as the real life Wilson.
Director Bill Pohlad — best known as a producer of Wild, 12 Years a Slave and Brokeback Mountain — and writers Oren Moverman ( The Messenger, I’m Not There.) and Michael Alan Lerner cast two different actors as Wilson. John Cusack is the 1980s Wilson after his mental breakdown and when under the control of Dr. Eugene Landy, and Paul Dano ( There Will be Blood, Prisoners) does Wilson from his teen years through the breakdown.
The two actors look nothing alike, their voices are nothing alike and their acting styles are nothing alike.
Already you’re thinking Love & Mercy is a mess. It is. But the mess is deliberate and the casting of two different actors as Wilson ends up — after you give the movie some thought — a brilliant move. We are all made of many different forms of ourselves. Wilson — in interviews — talks about himself in the past almost as if he wasn’t that person. And maybe he wasn’t. So the two different actors as Wilson makes some sense.
Dano and Cusack are pretty good and so is Elizabeth Banks ( The Hunger Games) who does Wilson’s then girlfriend and now wife, Melinda Ledbetter. The most impressive performance is that of Paul Giamatti. His Eugene Landy is so real, so believable and so intense that it is horror movie frightening.
Other than a few songs, I’m not that big a fan of Wilson’s one-note music. I am, however, a student of the history of the times, and Landy’s control of Wilson is a great story and one that while interesting, and worth the price of a ticket — unfortunately — does not get told as deeply as was needed.