Thursday, 9 July 2015

'Love and Mercy' review

Love and Mercy, the inside story of Brian Wilson is released in theaters in a couple days. Hit the jump for my full review (hint - it's an incredible film)...

The house lights go down, and the screen fades to black. It lingers, perhaps a touch too long, and then Paul Dano appears onscreen. He talks quietly; you strain to listen. Who is he talking to? Is there someone else in the room or is he talking to himself? The screen fades to black again and the first credits appear. Silence. More credits. More silence. The screen fades to black. An eternity passes, what's going on? Oh wait, here's a noise. What is it? Suddenly, the surround sound erupts; there's noise everywhere. It's soothing, but pained, and it's disconcerting. Is that screaming? You shut your eyes as the sound grows. It keeps on growing. All around you is noise, it penetrates your skull. Then it stops. Paul Dano is sleeping on a bed. What did you expect? A Beach Boys montage? But wait, here it is. Something's strange though:  it never focuses on one song, it's always jumping, it's incoherent, disconcerting, and uncomfortable. Then comes the realization : this is not your average bio pic.

So begins Love and Mercy.

John Cusack is Brian Wilson
I have never found myself in adoration of the Beach Boys. I have never found myself in adoration of music bio pics either. So it was with no expectation of greatness that I wandered into a preview screening of Love and Mercy. Indeed, the very exposition that I just outlined told me that this was a very different film to the one that I expected. In fact, it reminded me of Korine's 'Spring Breakers' (funny that). There was a film that purported to be trash, but, in fact, was an art movie. Here was a biography film, that was actually an art movie - both visually and sonically. However, of course, at heart Korine's movie is still trash, and Love and Mercy is still a biography, let's not get too carried away here... The use of surround sound is quite incredible. At least 4 times (possibly more) we are treated to these trips inside Brian Wilson's mind. By this I mean the aural soundscape that I described above. Every time we enter, it's psychedelic, strange, and unlike anything I've ever heard in a major motion picture to date.

The rest of the audio (naturally) comprises of Beach Boys songs, and the visuals are never less than perfect. The sunny, heightened California of Wilson's youth is dazzling and vibrant, whereas the modern existence of his middle age is often minimalist and toned down. There's a lot of nice symmetry and moody lighting to complement the atmosphere of the piece. One wonders whether Pohlad's main ambition was to create a stunning work of art or a biography. We never see the middle ground; we only hear about it, and that's enough. I think the tragedy and horror of that period of Wilson's life would not translate so well cinematically.....

Paul Dano is Brian Wilson...
Dano plays Wilson in the 60s, when the Beach Boys rose to fame. We see their build up with catchy tunes, and then the start of Wilson's psychosis and withdrawal as he leaves the world tour. We see his hope and expectation (always spat on by his abusive father) rise as the band prepares to return and hear the material that will 'blow their minds'. Sadly, the new and inventive songs do not impress Brian's dominant and twattish cousin; who forces alienation upon him, and his delusions increase to distressing gibberish. Dano is just simply stunning here, and his ability to convey so much emotion and insight into a character that (I assume) he feels no affinity for, is crazy.

Then we have John Cusack, who plays Wilson in the 90s. We hear about the interim; the alcoholism, abuse, isolation, but we just have to imagine it visually. I think this is for the best, and it adds a layer of mental stimulation no longer seen in many films. We also learn more about his childhood and abusive father. There's a lot of reflection to be had here, and Cusack does it wonderfully. Indeed, this is probably the more emotional of the two halves. You see, here we are introduced to Landy (Paul Giamatti), Wilson's legal guardian and psychiatrist. Melinda Ledbetter, a car saleswoman, becomes attracted to Wilson, but soon finds out that there's something fishy about his carer. In fact, she soon discovers that Landy is overdosing Brian in order to make him more frail, suggestitive, and therefore lucrative. The problem is that he is Wilson's legal guardian, so resistance is mostly futile. I guarantee you that the most heartbreaking scene you will have seen in a long while will be when Melinda tries to confront Landy in Brian's house. The power he exerts swamps her intentions, and our hopes. It's tense, heartbreaking, and ultimately (by the end of the picture) beautiful.
Stunning cinematography

So, there we have it, this is not a happy movie. In fact, the ending is the only real display of optimism in the whole affair. It's just so sad watching Wilson become alienated, forgotten, and hated by his own family, only to be taken advantage of and used by those who were supposed to help him. The scenes in which he is under the influence of Landy's drugs are surely some of the most tragic in cinema history. We hear of the abuse by his father (in a traumatic dinner sequence, Cusack provides a disturbing account of this) and we even witness such an event. We learn of his alcohol abuse, and total neglect of his family in interim years (summed up in one fantastic scene featuring an obese Dano). So yeah, it's hard hitting. Luckily, there are a few moments of light comedy to bring up the mood from tragic to intense. But it's still rated 12A/PG-13? Unfortunately, you see, the BBFC/MPAA still have not realized that 'fuck' is just a word, whereas the themes and events depicted in this movie are so much distressing... Don't get me wrong, this is not a depressing film; this is a tense, beautiful, compelling, and often tragic look at the life of a genius. Those for whom it may elicit tears are Beach Boys mega fans however, as this candid look is about as honest as a music documentary can get.

I mean, I'm just so in awe of the whole film. Like I said, in terms of audio it's revolutionary. Visually, it's stunning (especially at the end when we experience a 2001 Kubrickian bedroom montage which is simply beautiful and heart-wrenching). The acting is superb to the level of 3 possible Oscar winners (Dano/Cusack/Giamatti). It's emotionally charged, perfectly pitched, no-holds-barred, and absolutely categorically brilliant. And it exerts this strange pitch, where even the darkest scenes aren't depressing, just tense: something I've never seen before in a film.

You know, funnily enough, a Roger Ebert review for 'The Exorcist' springs to mind (another completely different film). In it, he rated said film 4/4 but had this to say:
"I am not sure exactly what reasons people will have for seeing this movie; surely enjoyment won’t be one, because what we get here aren’t the delicious chills of a Vincent Price thriller, but raw and painful experience. Are people so numb they need movies of this intensity in order to feel anything at all? It’s hard to say."
I can't help but feel it's the same case here (unless, of course, you are a megafan of the Beach Boys). Naturally, the experience will be completely different ,but in a way it's the same.
I don't know if I'll ever see it again, it feels like a one-view film, but it feels important, really important and one things for sure: it's a goddamn masterpiece....

Love and Mercy gets 5 stars!

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