LOVE AND MERCY – Review by Susan Granger

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Unless you’re fascinated by watching a talented musician stricken by acute mental illness, Bill Pohlad’s eclectic, unconventional biopic of Brian Wilson, co-founder of the Beach Boys, is rather mundane. Paul Dano plays Wilson as a timid, troubled young California singer-songwriter, a solitary genius, churning out pop teen hits like “Surfin’ USA,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around” and “Good Vibrations” in the 1960s, and engaging in pharmaceutical experimentation while battling his abusive father/onetime manager, Murry (Bill Camp). Read on…

John Cusack plays Wilson as a despondent, lethargic, over-medicated adult in the 1980s. That’s when he bought a Cadillac from a beautiful blonde ex-model/saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), his wife-to-be. To her chagrin, Melinda discovers that Wilson’s life was, literally, manipulated and controlled by his creepy, tyrannical therapist/legal guardian, Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).

(FYI: Dr. Landy, a psychologist, was originally hired by Wilson’s first wife, Marilyn. He misdiagnosed Wilson as a paranoid schizophrenic, threatening to institutionalize him if he didn’t cooperate with Landy’s 24-hour treatment; Landy also worked with stars like Alice Cooper and Rod Steiger.)

Studded with heavy-handed metaphors (like Wilson in the deep end of the swimming pool), the narrative jumps back and forth between the two. This diversity is a jarring since, physically, the two actors playing Wilson don’t resemble one another.

That’s not even acknowledged by screenwriter Oren Moverman, who previously worked with director Todd Haynes, splitting Bob Dylan into six different people in “I’m Not There.” Moverman, apparently, revised Michael Alan Lerner’s original script.

The most memorable scenes show Wilson’s artistic process: composing at the piano, musing “Sometimes it scares me to think about where the music comes from. What if I lose it? What if I never get it back? What would I do then?”

Or obsessively working on the kaleidoscopic “Pet Sounds” album (1966) in experimental recording sessions with Wrecking Crew musicians. For avid Wilson fans, that – and the sound track – may be enough.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Love and Mercy” is an uneven, sanitized 6. It’s obvious in the “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” closing credits that this discordant, yet deferential project was made with the complete cooperation of Brian and Melinda Wilson.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.