Sunday, June 14, 2015

"Love & Music" Isn't Just an Average Beach Boys Biopic

Love & Mercy follows the full creative process of Pet Sounds, The Beach Boys’ innovative, psychedelic 1966 album, which also earns the movie a PG-13 rating for thematic contents, drugs, and language. The music is cacophonous, evocative, sometimes ethereal—much like the movie, which switches narratives back and forth from the young, drug-addled Wilson (Paul Dano) in the 1960s to the middle-aged, broken Wilson (John Cusack) in the 1980s.

The effect is disjointed and unsettling—exactly like Wilson’s debilitating mental state—and it works, sucking the audience into the mind of Wilson, who thinks and feels through clashes of vocals, symphony, and sound effects. Pet Sounds isn’t just another push-the-envelope “greatest” album, but an eruption of his fears, insecurity, and depression—a siren call for help. --Sophie Lee

For an extra few bucks, theaters showing the Brian Wilson biopic “Love and Mercy” should issue headphones so audience members could jack in directly to Atticus Ross’ hypnotic soundtrack. (And I don’t mean earbuds, but big, fat, pillowy, quad headphones.)

Ross and Trent Reznor have made memorable soundtracks before for films like “Gone Girl” and “The Social Network,” but what he creates for “Love and Mercy” is more like an aural soundscape, with snatches of Beach Boys music and whispers of sinister voices floating around in the ether. Hearing it helps us understand the beauty and the nightmare of being in Brian Wilson’s head.

That’s the main purpose of Bill Pohlad’s empathetic and ambitious film, to try to give the viewer a feel for what life for one of the 20th-century’s greatest (and most troubled) pop music composers has been like. Pohlad’s scraps the traditional “Behind the Music” arc of the traditional musical biopic for something riskier, more intuitive, and much more deeply satisfying. --Rob Thomas