Thursday, July 30, 2015

Love & Mercy Review

Going to see Love & Mercy the other day was quite the experience. While I do enjoy seeing big blockbusters, I'm often searching for any chance I can get to see a smaller, lesser-known film in theaters. Love & Mercy is one of those festival movies that found its way into theaters. For some reason, I had absolutely no idea what it was about. I had seen no trailers, no advertising, and barely any posters for the movie. I just knew it was a smaller movie that had gotten really good reviews. That was it. That was good enough for me, though. So I went in, hoping to enjoy it and actually was a few minutes late, so I missed the very beginning. When I walked in, there was a man having a really awkward conversation with a car saleswoman inside an older car. Ok, cool. This movie was set 30 or so years ago, I thought to myself. Man gets out of car after saying he wants to buy it. Then man gets introduced as Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. Wait what? Am I here seeing a biopic of the freaking Beach Boys? How did I not know that this existed? Yup, that was my movie-going experience. I went and saw a Brian Wilson biopic without realizing it even existed. That was great. And in terms of biopics, this was a pretty darn good one. I personally enjoyed it more than last year's Oscar-nominated biopics The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything.

In addition to having no idea that I was going to see a Brian Wilson biopic, the other thing that made this a really good experience for me personally was that I knew pretty much nothing about the personal lives of any of the Beach Boys. All I knew is that they wrote some pretty darn good songs like "Good Vibrations," "Barbara Ann," and "Fun, Fun, Fun." So everything that happened in the movie was a total surprise. If you are a huge Beach Boys fan and you know every detail about their personal lives, I'm sure this will still be a great experience for you as I have enjoyed plenty of biopics where I knew how it was going to end. But knowing nothing made for quite the experience because apparently Brian Wilson had quite the crazy life and thus this was quite the intense and emotional movie. The movie jumps between two separate timelines. One timeline is back in the 60's during the Beach Boys' heyday. The other is during the 80's where Brian Wilson was going through quite the ordeal. I don't know how much of this ordeal I want to share, but I think it's safe to say that in the 60's his mental health was deteriorating quite a bit and some awful things happen to him in the later story line because of that.

One thing I found fascinating about this movie was that duel story line. The logical way to make a biopic is to start at the beginning of your story and move towards the end. That's what happens most of the time and I'm just fine with that. But bonus points go out when a movie can successfully stray away from this traditional narrative in a way that works. That's the case here. We eventually get the story of Brian's whole life. In addition to the two main story lines, we are told of what happened in his life during his childhood as well as what happens in between our two main story lines. But having it all come as a puzzle was really interesting. It also built up the story and the suspense very well. We see how Brian is acting later in life and we slowly get more and more background as to how he got to this point. Both story lines were also really interesting to follow in their own way. It could've worked very well as two separate movies, a movie about his life in the 60's and a movie about his life in the 80's. Instead it's like we watched the movie and its sequel at the exact same time. How often do you get that experience?

Major props go out to every actor involved in this movie. I first want to mention this blonde female actor in the movie before I mention the two Brians. Like I said, I knew almost nothing going into this film. I didn't even know who it starred. The later story line centered around a complicated love story that followed the female part of that more than Brian. For the life of me I couldn't figure out who this actress was, but I swear I knew her from something and since I was really enjoying the heck out of her performance, I wanted to know who it was and I wasn't about to pull out my cell phone in the theater. That's not cool. Sure enough, the credits eventually rolled around and holy Effie Trinket it was Elizabeth Banks as this girl. Wow! I mean, I've always loved Elizabeth Banks, especially in her Hunger Games role, so I'm not surprised that she was able to pull this off, but I was still impressed as this was the best I've ever seen her. I'd be in total support of her get recognized by the award ceremonies at the end of this year.

Next I want to discuss both of our Brians. Younger Brian is played by Paul Dano and older Brian is played by John Cusack. Both of these guys are the bomb in this. I think it's especially difficult to portray a character who is going through mental issues and in this case its especially difficult because the two actors have to be pretty in sync with each other as the one eventually progresses to being the other and that transition I feel is done rather well. Both of these actors definitely felt like the same character. Now John Cusack has been around for a while and he's usually great in everything he does, even if the movie itself isn't the best (2012 is an example of that). So it's no surprise that he is great in this. Props to the guy for some good consistency throughout his career. Paul Dano on the other hand is someone who's really impressed me as of late and I think he's one to keep your eye on. No, he's not new to the acting business. But he's pulled off some dang good performances as of late. In Prisoners he played our mostly mute, mysterious victim. I believe he was one of the scumbag slave owners in 12 Years a Slave. Now this where he plays a Brian that is slowly deteriorating mentally while achieving major success with the Beach Boys. All super impressive.

Also, we have Paul Giamatti in the movie. I don't want to say much about who he plays and what he does, but holy freaking cow. If I were to pick only one person to award, it might be him. But really, they are all worth it. Too bad this movie came out at the wrong time of year to be considered a serious contender. Had this been a fall or winter release later this year, I think it would be turning more heads in the awards race. I mean, if we give Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Keira Knightley, and Felicity Jones Oscar nominations (and a win for Redmayne) for roles in their respective biopics last year, then someone in this should get a nomination, whether it be Cusack, Dano, Giamatti, or Banks because I walked out of this movie as impressed or more impressed with their performances than with the previously mentioned performances (all of which I enjoyed for the record). But alas, this movie will probably be forgotten come nomination time in January. What a sad, messed up system we have where you need to be released later in the year for the Academy to remember you existed. Because let's be honest, situations like The Grand Budapest Hotel from last year are more of an anomaly.

Overall, if you like the Beach Boys, then this is a movie that you need to check out. I watched the trailer after seeing this movie (not completely intentional -- no need to tell that story here, though) and they have this tagline that says something to the effect of you won't see the Beach Boys' music the same after watching this and I think that is true. Knowing Brian Wilson's story will give you a different perspective on this great band. Even if you don't call yourself a Beach Boys fan, but you like biopics or you just like watching good movies in general, then this is also a movie that you need to see because it's one of the better biopics that I've seen. It's also a movie where the narrative is very well crafted and all the performances by the cast are just excellent. Huge props especially go out to Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack, Paul Dano, and Paul Giamatti for really making this work. This is an intense and emotional ride that deserves your attention. I'm awarding Love & Mercy a 9/10.

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