Love & Mercy is such a breath of fresh air in the period of intense, in your face, balls-to-the-wall action flicks. Sometimes we need that subtlety of direction. Yes, I love action films too. That being said, great indie dramas need their face time too.
So what's it about? Love & Mercy tells the tale about love and mercy. Just kidding. Sure, sure, sure, it's title has something to do with the film; it is also about the genius behind the musical group The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson. This biopic centers around two crucial points in his life, one played the undervalued Paul Dano, and the other by the just as undervalued (as of the last decade) John Cusack. In his younger life (Paul Dano) we get to see his rise and fall in stardom and sanity. The other (John Cusack) deals with the aftermath many years later as he come to contact with a pretty car dealer played by Elizabeth Banks.
Let's start with what is most prevalent on my mind: John Cusack. The guy is so under recognized. John Cusack is one of the most talented and charismatic actors to come to Hollywood. Because he no longer has the cinematic "good looks", he really hasn't gotten the roles. It is such a shame because when he is on screen his presence is so immediately noticeable and penetrates the screen. I don't mean to be pretentious but throwing around words like poignant and gravitas just has to happen to describe his performance in Love & Mercy. Brian Wilson, our protagonist of the film, played brilliantly by John Cusack in the early 90's has a level of a damaged interior that is near impossible to pull off convincingly. Cusack not only is able to pull it off, but goes even deeper to a level that only the best actors can. This is brought to us not only from his nuanced performance with his attention to all the quirks of someone with mental illness, but also from insight into his younger life.
This brings us to Paul Dano, who plays the younger version of Brian Wilson. While I have never been a die hard Dano groupie, I have always been impressed with him as a supporting character whether it be in 12 Years a Slave, Little Miss Sunshine, or Prisoners. Possibly more so than John Cusack, Paul Dano give us a breathtaking performance. Most of this comes from of diversity of emotions that are given to the man to deliver - and does he deliver! Dano attention to detail in the evolution of a character who is drowning so quickly in his emotions whether they be pure joy or deep penetrating sorrow. I think I might be slightly upset if neither of these two actors receive love come award season, but given that these things are so fickle I'll try not to get too engrossed in the idea of that happening.
I could also mention the supporting actors of Paul Giamatti, who plays Brian's shady, overbearing therapist; or Elizabeth Banks who provides the sympathetic beauty who shows interest into Brian's life. They are both remarkable, but it really is the Cusack and Dano show. Their show is made all the more genius through the combined fusion of utterly fantastic music with some of the best cinematography and editing seen in 2015. I could talk about the delivery of each scene and the careful attention to detail in the musical montages; but where the film really explodes in brilliance is in how they are able to showcase Brian Wilson mental illness in a real and sympathetic way. His paranoia and uber sensitive mind can process everything at a rate that is mind-boggling in a way that is overwhelming. We are able to empathize with him because the creative way the editing and music show him processing his world in his paranoia. A lesser film would have failed on this front. One of the many reasons this film is so great is because of it.
Another reason Love & Mercy works so well is because of its gleeful joy in the area of music and its construction. Most of this is brought to us from Brian's younger self, Paul Dano, who show us the real passion of the film: the expression of love. His art form happens to be music, but it extends deeper than that as this wave of beauty is hinted at. Sadly this passion can be misunderstood and hated in Brian's case where he just needs a little mercy. Sure this message could be a little simplistic, but it is so evocative, that we don't need any more than that.
For all my love of the film, it is not perfect. It comes real close, and even though it really flirts with flaws of thin characters, lack of believability in dialogue, or what could be perceived as cheap caricatures, it doesn't hit them. Luckily the film is acted well enough that it avoids these fronts. Where it doesn't succeed though is the transition in time. The pack and forth rally between the net dividing the two key moments in Brian's Life go back and forth so sporadically without enough connection. What could have been seamless with enough meshing of similar themed moments in the editing in the transitions of time to provide enlightening situations, is instead made into haphazard tying of the strings between these periods of times. It feels like two movies. Part of this works for sure, but it goes wrong enough times to make for a slightly difficult viewing experience.
Even if the flow of time is a little too disjunctive, Love & Mercy is so phenomenal on so many fronts that it is hard to complain. The performances by John Cusack and Paul Dano are so much better than many things we get to see on a regular basis. They are what make Love & Mercy the treasure that it is. It is only helped by brilliant music and its gleeful demonstration of its construction. This is shown through inspired cinematography and editing in the montages of joy, to the the delivery of gut wrenching drama. All of this would be for naught though without Cusack and Dano's performances. Because of them I love this film, and I have an inkling that so will anyone else who takes a chance on this indie gem.
Personal Preference: 4.75/5
Critical Analysis: 4.5/5