Love & Mercy ★★★★½


Unlike anything I've ever seen, as it simultaneously condenses and expands on the tropes of the "sub-genre" (biopic) that it's been unfortunately squeezed into. Todd Haynes crafted 6 different versions of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There., but Bill Pohlad was wise in sticking with the dual-structure, especially because the conclusion rhymes in a way that works towards its yearning, symmetrical fashion. Separate sections of a complete whole have never felt so brilliant in their various contradictions, and like the good old days of vinyl, Love and Mercy enthralls like a perfect A-Side/B-Side record.

The two performances, both portraying Brian Wilson but each in different mindsets and settings (60s and the 80s), by Paul Dano and John Cusack are, each in their own way, extraordinary. Dano has the obvious advantage in playing younger Wilson, as his material is much more meaty and alive (reenacting the creation of Pet Sounds must have been a dream of a role), but Cusack is just as riveting in a tale that reeks of dirt and grime, pain and sorrow, control and eventual liberation. While one section is the equivalent of a hazy California dream, complete with dreamy 16mm photography and documentary-style freedom, the other feels like a harsh 80s Noir, startling but beautiful in its connection.

It's strange to think, that even in the span of decades, that they're the same person. So much is missing, but it is in the gaps of facts where the mysteries of genius take hold. A simple "from birth to death" story would've been catastrophic. Like the monumental, soul-searing album of Pet Sounds, Love and Mercy delights in the experimental beauty of trickery and minute details. It isn't about what is missing or lost to the tales of rumor, but what is explored through creation.

Essentially, Brian Wilson went after the prospects of truth by crafting music for the soul, rummaging through the sounds of his head and translating it onto sheet music, and Love and Mercy reaches for that same cathartic discovery. Atticus Ross' ambient soundtrack is glorious but unsettling, as it reflects the ethos of Brian's mentality but continuously reminds the audience of his sickness. Fascinating at first, the top-notch editing soon works in complete synchronization in order to effectively demonstrate Brian's mental state. It's deliriously sickening, but it has the benefit of added contrast in the more serene moments of the later time-period.

Love and Mercy, above all, is a journey, and in spite of that connotation, nothing could describe it better. Two time-periods, two different stories, but one man. One brilliant, fractured, soul, trying to find some sort of love in a world seemingly devoid of it. It's one of the best films that I've seen this year, and in its finest moments, I was grinning from ear-to-ear. Love and Mercy, whether you're a fan of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys or not, is an overwhelming piece of harmony.

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