Love & Mercy Parent Review
Beach Boys enthusiasts may have had to wait a long time to see Brian Wilson's biography on the big screen, but most will agree it was worth the wait.
Love & Mercy tells the story of Brian Wilson, the genius behind The Beach Boys. Wilson’s contributions to popular music are on par with the biggest names of rock and roll. And, like too many of those other stars, his creativity was muddled by drug use and mental instability. It’s these elements that are at the forefront of this film.
Director Bill Pohlad takes a sizeable risk by using a two-strand approach to tell Wilson’s tale. The first depicts Wilson (Paul Dano) at the top of his career in the 1960s. The band has enjoyed hit after hit of surfing and summertime tunes. The money is pouring in. Yet Wilson is keen to expand his music—especially after observing other artists, like The Beatles, moving from pop into more serious efforts. After he sends the band on a tour to Japan, Wilson hangs back in LA and begins work on a new album. Upon their return, the rest of the “boys” aren’t impressed with the bizarre new sounds. Wilson’s cousin Mike Love (Jake Abel), is particularly bothered by the his decision to record most the songs with session musicians, while the rest of the gang are asked to simply sing vocal harmonies. Love insists they need stick to their tried-and-true formula. Making matters worse, Wilson begins playing around with psychedelic drugs, which leads him to be increasingly engrossed in his experimental music.
Deftly intercut with this storyline is an older Brian Wilson, played by John Cusack. It’s two decades later and Wilson is a damaged man, suffering from mental illness related to earlier LSD abuse. He is now being manipulated by Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). The psychiatrist, who liberally dishes out pills, controls his patient’s every move. He has even convinced Wilson to designate him as his legal guardian. When the musician meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), and she begins making serious allegations against Landy care, the doctor determines to keep her away from his charge.
Pohlad’s unusual style pays off and proves to be an effective way to illustrate how past decisions (in this case Wilson’s substance abuse) can lead to lifetime consequences. Yet, unless you have teenage fans of throwback culture, it’s unlikely your kids will be clamoring to see Love & Mercy. You may be, however.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this PG-13 movie is its portrayal of illegal substances use. A couple of scenes depict marijuana smoking and characters are seen having hallucinations after taking LSD. (Typically this type of content would receive an R-rating from the MPAA.) While characters in the film make comments suggesting getting high on acid may not be a good idea, history works to thwart those lessons. Wilson’s experimental album, Pet Sounds, is now heralded by many critics as the best rock album every produced and the movie strongly implies his creativity was enhanced by the use of recreational drugs.
Other viewer concerns are minimal. A few scatological expletives and frequent Christian religious exclamations are used. Wilson discusses his abusive father, to whom he attributes his loss in hearing in one ear (at one point we see a flashback of a man slapping a child’s head) and other scenes include verbal altercations. As well, sex between an unmarried man and woman is implied when we see them in bed together in the morning.
Artistically, this film is solid with fine performances that are bolstered by great cinematography and editing. Viewers will see intricate details of recreated recording sessions (shot in the very studio where the band worked) and learn how the group developed their unique sound. Beach Boys enthusiasts may have had to wait a long time to see Brian Wilson’s biography on the big screen, but most will likely agree it was worth the wait.Directed by Bill Pohlad. Starring Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack, Paul Dano . Running time: 120 minutes. Theatrical release June 5, 2015. Updated May 13, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Love & Mercy here.
Love & Mercy Parents Guide
Talk about the movie with your family…
How does the movie depict the ways Brian’s father affected his son’s life? Was Brian truly unable to regain control of the effects of the past? What strategies are available to help people overcome abuse as a child?
Brian desired to become more creative with his music. Although the album he created, titled Pet Sounds, eventually received critical acclaim, it was not very successful financially. How can we determine if we should pursue careers that provide financial success versus intrinsic rewards?
Melinda Ledbetter may have saved Brian Wilson’s life. Have you ever felt compelled to intervene in someone’s personal affairs because you feared he/she was at risk? How can we determine if this is an appropriate action to take?