“Summer means happy times and good sunshine. It means going to the beach, going to Disneyland, having fun.”

— Brian Wilson

Truthfully, I didn’t know very much about Brian Wilson until this new film by director Bill Pohlad debuted this week.

I remember liking “California Girls,” because I liked California girls, and raised two of them. But I was no Beach Boys’ fan.

At the outset of the film we meet Brian (John Cusack?) as he is buying a Cadillac from blond, blue-eyed car sales lady Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks doing her best work yet.)

Wilson/Cusack is sitting in a Caddy and invites Melinda to sit beside him, while a couple of strange guys wander about like hit men.


“Who is that strange guy?” Melinda asks.

“Oh, he’s my body guard.” Well, he was one of a paid team of grunts assigned to keep Brian afloat and stable.

Remember now, we’re not watching the Brian Wilson who was once a sweet boy pumping out rock hits. What Cusack gives us is something like an Ishmael still out at sea on that coffin, with a head full of blue water surf sounds, beached on white sands. This Wilson would be flagged at LAX.

Melinda clearly doesn’t know who he is, but she knows he’s damaged goods. Still, love bites.

If you go to this movie expecting a parade of the boys’ greatest hits, you’ll be disappointed. It’s not a concert. I don’t recall one song played all the way through. It’s about a sweet man’s dark journey down the drug washed rabbit hole of the 60s and his climb out. At that, it succeeds.

“Love and Mercy” is a fairly good movie well put together with a few good performances.


It’s a well made story, one we’ve heard before, from Judy Garland to Marilyn and Elvis, about the poison fangs of the bitch goddess fame and the bloody fingerprints on the golden statues.

And then there is always the shadowy figure of a money hungry Svengali, eager to “help” and grab his or her handful of the lava flow of cash. Marilyn had many, Elvis had the Colonel.

Wilson’s mustache twirler was Dr. Eugene Landy, played with buckets of venom, full throated anger and Mandrake eyes by the great Paul Giamatti. Giamatti pulls it off, and steals his scenes.

Fans will get to meet all the Beach Boys, all played down, so as to keep the focus on Brian. These are Wilson’s brothers Carl, (Brett Davern) Dennis, (Kenny Wormald) and with the exception of friend Mike Love, (Jake Abel) a not very exciting group of players, unfairly developed and with little to do.

We will meet the proverbial “bad stage daddy” Murry (Bill Camp) who liked to punch his son around, even causing ear damage. Murry hangs around too long, doing some serious damage to Brian and the groups’ bank book.

Cusack has always been a soft, lovable actor without a real breakout hit. But “lovable” is the key word.


His older Brian in this, has little to do but play the role of a stoned, messed-up victim. That’s hard for any good actor to do, and he does it well.

Paul Dano as young Brian, is a good, solid, unexciting actor. But he comes across as a wanna-be student of the Strasberg “Method,” that class of course: Pacino, Brando and Penn, had a fire in their bellies that Dano lacks.

Elizabeth Banks (the “Spider Man” trilogy, “The Lego Movie” and “Hunger Games”) is a fetching, well balanced actor. In this she has a few good moments but mostly just looks fetching.

I was impressed by Robert Yeoman’s camera work, with a few shots influenced by “2001 A Space Odyssey.” You’ll recognize them when you see them. “Love and Mercy” is not a wasted effort. It tries hard but falls short of a full A.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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