Love & Mercy | Chapel Hill Public Library | Screen: Special Showings | Indy Week

Screen: Special Showings

Love & Mercy

When: Sat., Dec. 19, 2:30 p.m. 2015



CHAPEL HILL PUBLIC LIBRARY—Bill Pohlad's biopic of Brian Wilson drops two talented actors into the enigmatic Beach Boys leader's troubled waters, but even their combined efforts can only go so deep. Paul Dano (convincingly doughy, bright-eyed and vulnerable) plays Wilson in his '60s heyday, as he steers his reluctant bandmates away from catchy songs about surfing, toward Beatles-challenging pop of symphonic intricacy. He already shows signs of trouble: panic attacks, withdrawal from touring and an ambition too large to be satisfied. John Cusack (convincingly twitchy, at once vacant and alert) is the lost, isolated Wilson of the '80s, now in the grips of a quack psychologist who subdues him with medication. Wilson starts a halting courtship with Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), seemingly the only person around who sees psychologist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) for the charlatan he is. The movie cuts back and forth between these periods, gathering clues to Wilson's downfall. There is the cruel manager-father and a related crippling perfectionism; the drowning death of Wilson's brother and bandmate, Dennis; the corrosive care of Landy and the effects of psychedelics on the fragile psyche of someone prone to hearing unwelcome voices and overly acute sounds. But the film seems more interested in the historical record than imaginative verisimilitude, and a certain phoniness creeps in. There is little candid or idle talk; the dialogue is often expository, laden with tacit footnotes. The symbolism eventually becomes garish, as in a late scene where Wilson flounders in the deep end of a pool while his bandmates crouch in the shallow end—a visual metaphor that might have been more elegant if one of them didn't actually remark upon it. But the cinematography of Southern California is a dream, and whenever the music swells, we forget the movie's flaws and bask in the kaleidoscopic magnitude of Wilson's talent, from the revved-up doo-wop that made him famous to the druggy key changes and modal scales that he was then able to plug in to pop culture. 2:30 p.m., free, 100 Library Drive, Chapel Hill, 919-969-2028, —Brian Howe

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