I’m a little bit of a Brian Wilson groupie. When I was 12 or so, I was at my aunt’s house and pulled out a couple of badly scratched LPs by The Beach Boys, All Summer Long and The Beach Boys Concert, plopped them on a portable record player my cousin had, and was overwhelmed by the crackling energy and screams of adoring female fans as the band ran through a stream of #1 hits. It was an American version of The Beatles, a band that my sisters adored and for which, at my immature age, I had no use.
Later, along about 1972, at the age of 14, I awoke to popular music, abandoned the country and bluegrass of my parents (albeit temporarily), and discovered Pet Sounds, Sunflower, and even heard rumors of an unreleased masterpiece, the famous lost album, Smile. I also began following the troubled genius and hit maker of the band, Brian Wilson.
The just-released biopic, Love and Mercy, is an artful and beautiful look at the troubled years of Brian Wilson. Alternating between the Sixties, when Brian began his pioneering studio work on Pet Sounds and Smile, as well as his mental demise, and the Eighties, when having come under the control of the faux-psychiatrist Eugene Landry he was rescued by the woman he married, Melinda Ledbetter, the movie follows a story well-known to his fans. And it gets it right and hits all the truths about this man: Abusing, controlling father that he ever sought to please, but could never please. Cousin and band member Mike Love, who to this day eschews art for the sake of the commercial, who never quite appreciated the special nature of Brian’s music. And control-freak Eugene Landry, who in fact was more abusive to Brian than his own father.
The acting is top notch. John Cusak nails the mannerisms and boyish innocence of the Eighties Brian, and Paul Dano looks the part of the Sixties Brian. Elizabeth Banks likely looks better than the actual Melinda Ledbetter, and Paul Giamatti is the believably sick psycho that Eugene Landry really was. Even the Bohemian lyricist Van Dyke Parks, with his nonsensical verse, is so un-Brian and yet we know that's what he looked like and the way he talked. But what shines through it all is the music, often melancholy but achingly beautiful.
The film promo says that it portrays the “personal voyage and ultimate salvation of the icon.” Indeed, it is an amazing work of grace that Brian Wilson still lives and makes music, given the abuse he has taken and inflicted on himself. I do not know him, but having met him several times in the last several years, his eyes still tell me that he is afraid, that salvation is still elusive. I've written so many times about Wilson. I feel so inadequate to talk about a movie or how I feel about seeing him on screen. I've read books, bought all his CDs (some more than once), and written about him, even published a poem about him. See what I mean? I am a groupie.
See the movie. Listen to Pet Sounds. Then pray that Brian Wilson will finally know the love and mercy to be found in Jesus.