‘Love & Mercy’
Director: Bill Pohlad
Stars: John Cusack, Paul Dano
3 (out of 5) Globes
“Love & Mercy” stars two separate actors as Beach Boy genius Brian Wilson, and one of its screenwriters is Oren Moverman, who had a hand in Todd Haynes’ deeply experimental Bob Dylan whatzit “I’m Not Here.” But that makes it sound more avant-garde than it is. Unlike most biopics, it focuses on two slithers of Wilson’s life story, not the whole thing, but it still offers a clean, even reassuring fall-and-rise tale. Even the stunt casting makes perfect sense: It hops back and forth between the ’60s, when Wilson is played by Paul Dano, and the ’80s, when he (now John Cusack) was struggling to find some stability after a long, troubled stretch. Even if Wilson became, as the film suggests, a different person entirely, it’s better two actors than doing Dano up in terrible old age makeup.
It’s still relatively strange for a biopic, though the bar is low. We don’t even see peak Wilson (that is, Dano) right away, instead meeting Cusack’s middle-aged, damaged version. When we meet he’s at the control of Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), an “unconventional” psychotherapist who had helped slim him down from his bed-ridden years but also refused him contact with much of his family or the rest of humanity. To his rescue comes one Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), a model-turned-car salesperson who met him by chance and managed to sneak into his — this, despite the protestations of his doctor, who vacillates between Classic Giamatti pop-a-blue-vein shoutfests and quieter and wormier mere passive-aggression, where he tries to get what he wants by badly pretending to be people's friend. (Landy's credibility is further subtracted by a very funny hairpiece.)