Love and Mercy (film)
|Love & Mercy|
File:Love & Mercy (poster).jpg|
Love & Mercy poster
|Directed by||Bill Pohlad|
Heroes and Villains |
by Michael Alen Lerner
|Music by||Atticus Ross|
|Edited by||Dino Jonsäter|
|Distributed by||Roadside Attractions|
Love & Mercy is a 2014 American biographical film directed by Bill Pohlad about musician and songwriter Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. The film, deriving its title from the 1988 song by Wilson, is presented in a parallel narrative covering two specific time periods of Wilson's life: the 1960s and the 1980s. Actors Paul Dano and John Cusack depict the young and old Brian Wilson, respectively, with Elizabeth Banks as Wilson's second wife, Melinda, and Paul Giamatti as psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy. It will be distributed internationally by Lions Gate Entertainment and in the United States by Roadside Attractions on June 5, 2015.
The film premiered in the Special Presentations section of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. It received acclaim from early reviewers who variously praised the film for its unorthodox approach to biography, original film score by composer Atticus Ross, Dano's convincing performance as the increasingly unstable Wilson of the 1960s, and scenes which closely recreate Wilson's advanced studio recording methods. The real life Wilson – who had little involvement with the film's development – called it "very factual".
In the 1960s, young songwriter and recording savant Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) finds himself in the midst of extraordinary success after scoring numerous hit records with the Beach Boys. Following a panic attack, he resigns from concert touring and ventures into the studio intent on creating "the greatest album ever made", Pet Sounds. Meanwhile, his grip on reality slowly loosens once his recent psychedelic experiences give rise to scattered voices in his head. Later, in the 1980s, a now-middle-aged Wilson (John Cusack) is shown to be a broken, confused man under the pharmacological and legal thrall of therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). After meeting Cadillac saleswoman Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), she is determined to save Wilson from Landy's manipulation.
- John Cusack as Brian Wilson–Future
- Paul Dano as Brian Wilson–Past
- Elizabeth Banks as Melinda Ledbetter Wilson
- Paul Giamatti as Dr. Eugene Landy
- Erin Darke as Marilyn Wilson
- Brett Davern as Carl Wilson
- Kenny Wormald as Dennis Wilson
- Jake Abel as Mike Love
- Graham Rogers as Al Jardine
- Bill Camp as Murry Wilson
- Max Schneider as Van Dyke Parks
- Mark Linett as Chuck Britz
- Johnny Sneed as Hal Blaine
- Teresa Cowles as Carol Kaye
- Jonathan Slavin as Phil Spector
A theatrical film adaptation of Brian Wilson's life entitled Love & Mercy was first proposed in 1988, and was planned to star William Hurt as Wilson and Richard Dreyfuss as Landy. While the project lay in development hell, the Beach Boys were eventually the subject of two made-for-TV dramatizations: Summer Dreams: The Story of The Beach Boys in 1990 and The Beach Boys: An American Family in 2000. Both films were widely derided for their historical inaccuracies. In 2006, the Wilson biopic project was briefly revived, and was to have included involvement from producers Mark Gordon, Lawrence Inglee, Jordan Wynn, and David Leaf. Nothing further was reported.
Love & Mercy was formally announced in June 2011. The title takes its name from Wilson's 1988 single, "Love and Mercy", which also appears on his eponymous debut solo album Brian Wilson. The film is the second feature directed by Bill Pohlad — decades from his previous — and was financed with his own money. As Pohlad cultivated an obsession with the 1997 box set The Pet Sounds Sessions, he became interested in the life of Brian Wilson while eventual Love & Mercy producers John Wells and Claire Rudnick Polstein were attempting to make a Beach Boys film. Details on the film remained relatively scarce until its unveiling in September 2014.
The film's original script that Pohlad received (entitled Heroes and Villains) was deemed unsatisfactory, and so he enlisted writer-director Oren Moverman to pen his own, who had previously found success with the impressionistic Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There (2007), which Pohlad believed was "an admirable effort ... [but] went too far". Pohlad claimed that Love & Mercy drew significant interest from "pretty big people in all parts of the business...But a lot of them honestly were such Beach Boys fans that they almost were too close to it. They couldn't see the forest for the trees." Originally, Pohlad intended himself to produce and for Moverman to direct. When Moverman found that Pohlad had a clear vision of how he wanted the film to be, he suggested that Pohlad direct the movie instead. Rather than having a conventional story, in June 2011 the biopic was reported to focus on specific elements of Wilson's life. At this stage, Pohlad contemplated focusing on three eras of Wilson's life instead of two: "It was Brian past, which was the 1960s Brian. Brian present, which was the guy in bed. And Brian future, which became the John Cusack era. And kind of by interweaving those we'd show, without having to tell every beat."
In November 2011, Wilson stated that he didn't know when the film would be done, and that he was currently "trying to get the script so it’s accurate." Though Wilson was consulted on the film, Ledbetter was majorly involved in communications. He later clarified: "I had no control or involvement in the film, but my wife did. She made sure they cast the characters right, you know so they could capture my personality and the records and stuff like that." Despite this claim, it was reported that Wilson did give some editing notes after attending a table read and after watching a rough cut of the film by himself. Wilson's veteran collaborator Van Dyke Parks — portrayed by Max Schneider — stated that he bore no involvement in the film, and awaited its historical accuracy in what he called "Mrs. Wilson's biopic". On February 8, 2012, Moverman announced that the script was complete.
Paul Dano was cast as the young Brian Wilson and believed, "I don’t think it’s a totally traditional biopic. I think it’s gonna be a fun and accessible film, and I think it’s hopefully going to be interesting, like the man that it’s depicting. I think he [Moverman] did an amazing job cracking this story, and I can’t imagine anyone else having done it, aside from him. I know they tried to make movies about Brian for a long time, and I think music stories are tough to tell in an interesting way." Dano reportedly prepared for the role by "filling up" on Wilson's Pet Sounds while learning how to play piano. When asked how familiar he was with Wilson before getting involved, Dano answered that he knew the Beach Boys' music, but was not aware of the extent of Wilson's troubles. He proceeded to immerse himself in Wilson's life by reading, listening, and watching as much information pertinent to Wilson as he could, purposefully abstaining from meeting him in person until he was sure he had absorbed everything in full. He explained, "Without question, learning to play and sing and listening to the music was the most important, because the most true Brian to me is in Pet Sounds. If you want to know him, you go listen to it." He related to Wilson's character adding, "Some of it is frankly deeply personal. Brian talked about trying to make music that would heal people. Knowing that his life was so hard and that was his attitude I felt like that's somebody I want to spend time with. Whether I needed love and mercy at the time or I wanted to give it I'm not sure." Dano also prepared for the role by gaining weight.
John Cusack, who plays Dano's older counterpart, was chosen for the role after Pohlad watched I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, a 1995 biographical film on Wilson by Don Was. Pohlad found portraying the 1980s Wilson to be problematic, since he believed Wilson's appearance changed rapidly in that era, but Cusack immediately popped into his head after watching the biography. Pohlad admitted: "He hasn’t necessarily always either gotten or taken the greatest roles, but I thought this one would be a good one that would really allow him to shine, and he’s truly delivered on that. A lot of people still come up and say, 'Oh, that Paul Dano looks exactly like Brian, but why’d you pick John Cusack? He doesn’t look at all like Brian.' Actually, he does, if you look back at that one era." After being selected, Cusack listened to the 2011 release of The Smile Sessions, enthusing, "You get a portrait of the genius at work at the apex of his powers at the time before he kind of went into the ashes," and, "It’s hard to overestimate his influence on music. Pet Sounds was a year before Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts, and everything you hear in the Beatles is there. And then you listen more. Especially to The Smile Sessions, and you hear all these other connections. Boom, there’s ELO, there’s another band." Cusack later recommended I Just Wasn't Made for These Times as a "companion piece" to Love & Mercy.
The decision to have two actors play Wilson was somewhat based on the notion that Wilson today is perceived as a completely different person from when he was in his 20s. Cusack elaborated on his experience with meeting Wilson: "When Brian would talk about the younger version of himself, he was completely dispassionate, like it was someone other than him — in a more extreme way than other people look back on when they were 21. Seeing him talking about it, he just had no ownership of himself." Pohlad encouraged Cusack and Dano not to work together and conjure an impression of Wilson between themselves, and instead try to get an independent sense of who Wilson is from the inside.
Paul Giamatti said of the film, "I play Dr. Landy, the crazy psychotherapist. It’s a great character. Brian Wilson had a severe freakout and his family got in touch with a psychotherapist out in L.A. named Eugene Landy who took over. That’s where most of the story comes from, because the doctor was basically insane. He made Brian play in a sandbox, I mean crazy stuff."[a] Giamatti prepared for the role by engrossing himself in contemporary articles, meeting the real life Landy's early career acquaintances, and listening to hours of tapes where Giamatti says "he'd just keep talking and talking, in these completely huge paragraphs. They were brilliant-sounding, but if you dug into them they didn't make much sense."
Speaking to The Daily Mail in November 2013, Elizabeth Banks stated "I play Brian’s second wife, Melinda, who he is still married to, and who essentially saved his life. … Brian suffers from a sort of paranoid schizophrenia, and always has, but for years no one knew quite what to do to help him. … Melinda met Brian, fell in love with him and knew she had to save him from this doctor."
Filming began on July 15, 2013 in the Hollywood area and expanded to various locations around Southern California. Shooting wrapped on August 27, 2013. Brian announced the film's wrapping through his Twitter page by posting a photo of himself and his wife along with Cusack. The film's wrapping party featured a special appearance by Wilson, who performed a solo live set. In January 2014, Pohlad reported that he was currently editing the film in New York. In July, a casting call was made for additional filming requiring a depiction of 1980s period cars.
|Love & Mercy|
|Film score by Atticus Ross|
|Atticus Ross chronology|
This page is a soft redirect.}
On September 19, 2014, Pohlad announced that the film's soundtrack would be released by Capitol Records sometime in the future, later reported for release in 2015. On June 2, 2015, Pohlad reported that there were complications but that the soundtrack should be released shortly after the film.
Of Wilson's music being incorporated in the film, Pohlad initially clarified, "We're not thinking about this as the hit parade—that would be the biopic thing." English composer Atticus Ross was commissioned for an original score. Ross, who is selective about the films he works on, says he agreed to Love & Mercy because "I liked him [Pohlad] from the moment of meeting him. He’s a guy with vision and that’s what, as a musician, you need from the director. His company was built on making the kind of films that I would love to be working on."
Ross and Pohlad worked on the score for about half a year. Pohlad explained that he did not want to incorporate a conventional score that was a fan's "tribute" to Wilson: "Atticus got that right away. You're not going to try to compete with Brian Wilson. So he had the idea — because we had access to all of Brian's original music and the original tapes and stems and tracks from these recordings. So we started talking about rearranging those. He would take them and combine them in different ways and we'd mix them and things to create new music that essentially was Brian's music." Pohlad said that it was "Revolution 9" from the Beatles' White Album which inspired this approach. Variety observed that Ross's score "reincorporates snatches of the Beach Boys' effervescent melodies into something that sounds intriguingly similar to Animal Collective."
Dano performs a few portions of Wilson compositions on piano, as he recalls, "There are a few scenes where you hear me start a line of a song and by the end of the session, you're hearing Brian's vocals. I have to give credit to the sound people, the transitions are really smooth; you can't tell that one half of it is the real thing and one half is me faking it, so I thank those guys a lot." Pohlad commented on the film's use of original Beach Boys multitrack session tapes, "[S]o much of what developed out of it was based on the ability to get into tracks. From a music perspective, certainly, the ability of Atticus and I to get into the tracks and play with them was important. Also to have the music in the film was important. It was not ever going to be a Mamma Mia! kind of movie. We didn't want that."[b] In June 2014, touring Beach Boy co-founder Mike Love reported that Wilson had been in the studio recording music which would be used in the film.
Wilson felt that the film was "very factual" (with Dano succeeding at his portrayal better than Cusack) and that each character was casted so well that he "actually believed those characters were really who they were, like the guy who played Doctor Landy was so right on ... that it absolutely scared me. [I was] like absolutely in fear for about ten minutes." In Giamatti's view: "The problem was that no one is going to believe a lot of this was for real. It's so much more bizarre than you could actually show." Some events in Wilson's life were, in Pohlad's words, "something that seems like a screenwriter made up just to take the easy way out," though he maintains that no "Hollywood touch" was added to the story. While there was an expectation that audiences would find other elements too outlandish or grandstanding, the decision was made to keep everything as factual as possible. Regarding the trust that Wilson and Ledbetter gave Pohlad for him to construct a true portrait of their lives, Pohlad recounted:
Melinda was the first one to see the first, rougher cut of it, before Brian did. It’s as much about her as it is about Brian. I was curious to see what her reaction would be, and she was definitely shaken. ... You think, "Oh, I didn’t say that," or "It was better than that" or worse than that. It’s a tough thing, so you need some time to let it sink in. I know that Brian believes in many cases in the movie that we were, let’s say, fairer to certain people than they actually deserved, maybe. Without getting into details. As harsh as it might be, he thinks that there was some reality that was even harsher than that.
Consequence of Sound reported that film recreates "several iconic portraits and moments", including the photo shoot of the band's Surfin' Safari (1963) to the performance of the live album Beach Boys Concert (1964): "These are all handled with the utmost accuracy, seemingly down to the lines in the sand, and that acute attention to detail carries over into just about every other facet of the film." Audio engineer Mark Linett, who has a longstanding association with Wilson, was employed as a technical consultant. He also plays the role of Chuck Britz, the engineer who often worked with Wilson during the 1960s.
The film's distinct studio scenes strove to recapture Wilson's elaborate recording processes during the sessions for Beach Boys albums Pet Sounds and the unfinished Smile. To this end, the scenes were shot "documentary style," and real musicians were hired to act as the session musicians Wilson used. They were also filmed in the actual studios where the Beach Boys' music was recorded in the 1960s. Pohlad claimed that they were real sessions with direction largely improvised by Dano, who instructed the musicians based on his impression of Wilson's tone and the way that he worked: "We had two Super 16 handheld cameras going, and for most of that we were just able to grab shots as we would if we were shooting a documentary." On the musicians, he added: "We didn’t really rehearse with them, or tell them much what we were doing. They brought their instruments, and we dressed them in period clothing, and we basically sat them down like they were there for a session." Wilson commented that he found these scenes "very factual, accurate, stimulating. I was really blown away by how close he [Dano] got to my personality. It's amazing."
In July 2014, a premier screening was announced in the Special Presentations section of the September 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. It was shown on September 7, 8, and 11. Wilson was in attendance at the first screening. North American rights were purchased for $3 million. For its premiere in Europe, the film was screened in the Berlinale Special Galas section of the 65th Berlin International Film Festival. Wilson also attended this screening. Its American premier was at the South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival in March 2015.
The film will be distributed to US theaters by Roadside Attractions on June 5, 2015. In other countries, the film will be released by Lions Gate Entertainment. A teaser trailer for the film was released in February 2015, with an extended trailer following in April. Co-president of Roadside Attractions Howard Cohen said that it refrained from "rushing" the film for the 2014 awards season: "Pretty early on, we said, 'let’s put it in June; let’s give it space. Let’s let it be the movie for its audience when it comes out, as opposed to [being] one of eight.'"
In October 2013, Wilson enthused, "We've seen some of the film. So far, so good. The guy who plays me, John Cusack, he's really good. And he sings well," and that "It's quite a thrill to have a movie made of my life. … I'm very sentimental about it, and it's very, very good. It was a trip to see. The actors and actresses portrayed everybody really well."
Ioncinema ranked Love & Mercy #153 in its list of "Top 200 Most Anticipated Films for 2014" and wrote: "you can be sure that programmers from Cannes to Toronto have already found time to grab a first look. This will receive a red carpet showing wherever it premieres and should at that point be picked up for distribution." The Huffington Post speculated the film to be one of eighteen most-talked-about at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival. The Hollywood Reporter revealed that it was in the festival's top 15 in ticket sales.
Festival co-director Cameron Bailey profiled the film, "Dispensing with staid biopic conventions, director Bill Pohlad nimbly intercuts between two key periods in Wilson's life, shining a double spotlight on his rise to stardom with the Beach Boys in the sixties and his remarkable eighties solo resurgence. As the younger Wilson, Paul Dano gives a superb performance that conveys the artist's prodigious gifts as well as his increasingly precarious mental state; the scenes of creative exploration during the Pet Sounds sessions are exhilarating. John Cusack is equally compelling, burrowing into himself as Dano's middle-aged counterpart."
Love & Mercy has received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 83%, based on 30 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "As unconventional and unwieldy as the life and legacy it honors, Love & Mercy should prove moving for Brian Wilson fans while still satisfying neophytes." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 76 out of 100, based on 11 critics, indicating "generally positive reviews".
Many reviewers described Love & Mercy as distinctive from typical biopics. Both Dano and Cusack's performances received praise, with The Hollywood Reporter and Maclean's naming Cusack's portrayal one of his best performances to date. Other highlights included its original score by Atticus Ross and cinematography by Robert Yeoman, who is best known for his credits on Wes Anderson films.
The film was well-received at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival screening. Audiences rose for a standing ovation, while early reviews unanimously lauded the film. Dano worried that the film's highly personal content would trouble Wilson, but he reported that Wilson loved the film, saying "he's a little unfiltered, so you would know if he didn't." Among many music-related films shown at the Toronto Festival,[c] The Wrap deemed Love & Mercy the "boldest" of the crop, while The Washington Post proclaimed that it had "stolen the show," comparing to its other films as "an unexpected, undisputed triumph." The film continued to receive a positive reception at further screenings.
The BBC awarded the film a perfect score, believing the studio scenes were so immersive that "it's a little like sitting next to Beethoven: the film is tender and moving, but also awe-inspiring. … [Paul Dano] seems to transform into Wilson's very being. The pale, cute moon face, the smile with a hint of a grimace, the disarming spaciness – this isn't just acting, it's channeling of a very high order." The Hollywood Reporter reviewed it favorably, calling it "a deeply satisfying pop biopic whose subject's bifurcated creative life lends itself to an unconventional structure … [Cusack's] effectiveness [is] limited only by his lack of a physical resemblance to the songwriter. That will be a stumbling block for some fans, but those who can get beyond it will find a very fine film about a singular artist." Biff Bam Pop! expressed admiration of scenes which recreate Pet Sounds and Smile album sessions, naming the film "a gift to Beach Boys fans and Brian Wilson obsessives," and adding that "both Brian, his wife and his fans can sleep easy knowing that the man’s remarkable story has been told with reverence." Consequence of Sound said: "Not since Anton Corbijn's Control, his excellent 2007 retelling of the life and death of Ian Curtis and Joy Division, has a biopic felt so authentic and conditional of its own subject." Variety's highlights included its cinematography and "haunting score".
The Guardian awarded the film three stars out of five, praising Cusack and Dano's performances, but criticizing the film's "neat" portrayal of Wilson's mental illness and other aspects of his life. IndieWire gave the film a B+ and wrote that while Landy's character lacked depth, "It's fascinating to watch the songwriter dash frantically around the studio, orchestrating a dozen sounds into auditory unity that only he understands. No matter what else happens in the plot, Love & Mercy excels at placing the music front and center." An additional review by the publication wrote: "[T]he film has plenty of love and mercy for its subject, but also some edginess, in what is a fascinating look at one of popular music's most important and influential songwriters." Maclean's took issue with the film's glorification of Wilson, claiming that it reduced from "biography" into "hagiography", yet maintains "the soundtrack is unimpeachable, and Pohlad offers a riveting look at how Wilson crafted such aural wonders as 'God Only Knows' and 'Good Vibrations'."
The publication Biography felt that the film's source material "inadvertently" reiterates plot devices used by typical biopics, and that, "For better or worse, Brian Wilson is suitably charismatic when he’s absolutely bonkers and hearing voices, and relatively boring after he’s supposedly cured by a new drug regimen and his wife’s benevolence." Grantland was less enthusiastic, writing that the film's characters were treated too graciously in contrast to Giamatti's Landy in order for the 1980s scenes to remain interesting; however, assures that "the 1960s sequences work because they use the musician’s damaged psyche as a creative spark," something which Dano excelled in during his performance.
- Giamatti may have been referring to Wilson's 1976 guest appearance on Saturday Night Live in which he performed a solo piano rendition of "Good Vibrations" while stationed in a sandbox, which was in itself a nod to lore pertaining to the Smile sessions.
- In 2010, John Stamos announced that he was to co-produce a non-biographical film of the Beach Boys modeled after the 2008 musical film Mamma Mia!.
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