Jon’s Movie Review: “Love & Mercy” Unveils Brian Wilson

Love & Mercy

There is an intrinsic, symbiotic relationship between an artist and his artwork. Neither can truly exist without the other. Most of the time, it is impossible to separate the two, but it is possible to hate one and like the other. In the case of Brian Wilson, the artist is his work, and more than that, his work is a direct interpretation of himself.

Brian Wilson’s life, past and present, has always been shrouded with a melancholy mystery. Decoding the man from the myth is impossible, and an ambitious attempt to do through any medium, but Love & Mercy succeeds in lifting (if only slightly) the veil the is/was Brian Wilson. Using a young Wilson (Paul Dano) and an older Wilson (John Cusack) to show the equally tumultuous time periods in the artist’s life, director Bill Pohlad manages to blend this parallel narrative to help explain Wilson’s rise and temporary fall.

The scoring in Love & Mercy by Oscar-winner Atticus Ross beautifully incorporates not only all of your favorite Beach Boys songs, but also provides completely tangible examples of how certain instances or sounds lead to the creation of some of their hits. Not only does his scoring bring the songs to life, but they also elevate the film with its compositions, which is one of the most important aspects considering the film is a biography about one of the greatest songwriters of our time. To be successful, the scoring has to be on par with the subject matter, and all the more considering the legend. Luckily, it is.

Music is only one aspect of Brian Wilson’s life, and you can’t separate the man from his genius, which the film knows full well. Instead, we are shown what seems like a factual reenactment with the extremely talented Paul Dano. Normally I would be skeptical of the “truth” behind one of these often-dramatized biopics, but even Wilson agrees that the film is “very factual,” so who am I to argue with that? Dano’s nuanced and skillfully eccentric performance feels like we are being a firsthand look at the true creation of an artistic masterpiece. The biggest compliment I can give Paul Dano is that for the two-hour length of the film, he was Brian Wilson, not just an actor playing a character. This is not to discount any of the actor’s performances, like Banks’ or Giamatti’s. Especially not Cusack’s dreary performance as a tortured and emotionally unstable Wilson. However, Dano’s complete immersion into the character extends beyond the screen.

The performances and music are only part of the whole that makes this film a great story, but without great visual elements to unite them, this collaboration of the senses would be a bust. The often beautiful imagery is easily drawn from the sometimes heavy-handed symbolism that is in the writing. Writer Oren Moverman is no novice at bringing legends to life through defining moments in their lives and careers, as he did with Bob Dylan in I’m Not There.

There is little we can do about how we will be remembered as artists and how/if our art will pass the test of time. Love & Glory is reminder that staying true to your vision is really the only thing you can do in life, and it is apparent the entire cast and crew took that page out of Brian Wilson’s songbook when making this film.

RATING: ★★★★★★★★ (8/10 stars)


Jon would say that as a writer, he is a self-proclaimed film snob and a pop culture junkie. Always gives his honest, critical, and maybe a little bit snarky opinion on everything. He's very detail oriented and loves anything involving creativity and innovation. You're better off asking him who his favorite director is rather than his favorite film. So beware and get ready to be entertained. You can contact him at or follow him on twitter @DystopianHero. (Also, he doesn't always refer to himself in the third person, but sometimes he just has to).