Love & Mercy Parent Guide
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.
Parent Movie Review
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 July 17, 2017
Love & Mercy
Rating & Content Info
Why is Love & Mercy rated PG-13? Love & Mercy is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic elements, drug content and language.
Violence: A father hits his child on the ear – Later, as a grown man, the character explains he has hearing loss due to the incident. Scenes depict characters verbally sparring with one another. The legal guardian of an adult abuses his charge through verbal bullying and improper administration of prescription drugs.
Sexual Content: An unmarried man and woman are seen getting into bed, and shown together the next morning with bare shoulders—sex is implied. Infrequent, brief sexual comments are heard.
Language: A single sexual expletive is used in a non-sexual context. Infrequent scatological slang, cursing and profanity, including Christian religious terms, are heard. Infrequent crude terms for sex are included.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Marijuana use is depicted. Characters are seen enjoying the effects of LSD after taking the illegal drug. Frequent portrayals of smoking and alcohol use are included. Prescription drugs are administered improperly to a man under the care of a guardian.
Page last updated July 17, 2017
Love & Mercy Parents' Guide
More About the Movie: Learn more about Brain Wilson and the real Beach Boys.
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?
The most recent home video release of Love & Mercy movie is September 15, 2015. Here are some details…
Home Video Notes: Love & Mercy
Release Date: 15 September 2015
Love & Mercy releases to home video with the following special features:
- A California Story: Creating the Look of Love & Mercy” Featurette
- “A-Side/B-Side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson” Featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- Audio Commentary with director/producer Bill Pohlad and executive producer/co-writer Oren Moverman
Related home video titles:
Jersey Boys follows the trails of another group of musicians, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Other famous songsters to have their life stories turned into movies are Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and Ray Charles in Ray.