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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Love & Mercy (Blu-ray)
Love & Mercy (Blu-ray)
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // PG-13 // September 15, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted September 30, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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THE FILM:

There are two, wholly different but harmonious stories being told in Love & Mercy: The first is Brian Wilson's struggle to move The Beach Boys from surf-pop to experimental sounds in the 1960s. The second is about a disheveled, floundering Wilson in the 1980s, when he was under the care of now-disgraced therapist Dr. Eugene Landy. Paul Dano and John Cusack are both excellent as Wilson, and, while the actors do not particularly resemble Wilson or each other, their performances hold the bifurcated film together. A strong supporting cast, including Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks, accompanies the leads in Bill Pohlad's unconventional documentary. Those pining for a nostalgic look at The Beach Boys won't find it here, but this well-acted docudrama unconventionally captures the life of curious Wilson.

I'll confess that I did not know much about Brian Wilson's personal life before viewing Love & Mercy. A bartender friend of mine said Wilson came in one night and was kind of rude, kind of strange. That sounds about right, if this film is at all accurate. Seen through the rose-colored glasses of time, The Beach Boys are either a decent California rock band or a novelty act, depending on whom you ask. OK, so "Kokomo" is a stupid song, but the Boys had some hits. Here, mid-sixties Wilson (Dano) struggles to pull away from The Beach Boys' extensive touring schedule, and instead desires to write more complex songs. He hopes to create the "greatest album of all time" in 1966's Pet Sounds, which initially is met with little fanfare. Meanwhile, 1980s Wilson (Cusack) is suffering from mental illness after years of extensive drug use. Wilson's therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Giamatti), overtakes his life, regulating Wilson's meds, meals and company.

Dano's character is not particularly deep. That Wilson is reserved and hard to pen down. The Cusack Wilson's troubles are closer to the surface. He meets a pretty Cadillac saleswoman (Banks), but Landy rules with an iron fist, limiting their time together. Giamatti essentially plays Wilson's second love interest, since the doctor's opinions are taken as gospel. The parallel stories are intimately tied, obviously, but they do not necessary work hand-in-hand. Love & Mercy, with its screenplay from Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman, tells two tales, with only a broken protagonist to lead the audience onward into the '80s. The two interwoven halves of this movie feel very separate, and this might have been a fatal flaw but for the strong lead performances from Dano and Cusack. Like a costume play in which different actors portray the same character, Love & Mercy sees two wholly different men playing the same man with impressive results.

Most of the drama here comes at the hands of Wilson, who inadvertently rips the band apart by forcing them to move in another direction. Landy creates waves in the '80s, sending Wilson's friends and family packing but maintaining the artist's unyielding loyalty. Wilson's difficult upbringing, with an overbearing father, fuels a near-obsessive work ethic, which in turn causes later trust and decision-making problems. All of this melodrama is very interesting, and the scenes with Landy would seem unbelievable if they weren't rooted in truth. Dano and Cusack play Wilson as brilliant and vulnerable, and both Banks and Giamatti are nice assets to the film. Director Pohlad captures enough recording-studio magic, and crafts the story to remain intriguing throughout without overselling the drama. I have a new appreciation for Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys after watching Love & Mercy. There is real talent and heartache behind these sunny tunes.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is nice, offering crisp visuals, bold colors and strong black levels. Sourced from film to complement the material, Love & Mercy features both 16 mm and 35 mm sequences, with the latter obviously exceling in detail and clarity. There are some boosted highlights and manipulated colors, but I suspect this Blu-ray replicates the theatrical image. There is plenty of fine-object detail and texture, and wide shots are deep and without compression artifacts.

SOUND:

It would be bad news if this musical biopic came with a lousy soundtrack. Fortunately, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is strong, with excellent delineation of elements and strong subwoofer support. There is a lot of ambient noise throughout, and viewers are placed amid a recording session, on a yacht cutting through crashing surf, and on a busy downtown street. The musical selections are deep, and the track exhibits excellent fidelity. A Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital dub is included, as are English, English SDH and Spanish subs.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc release is packed in a standard case, which is wrapped in a slipcover. There is an insert with a code to redeem an UltraViolet digital copy. Extras include a strong Audio Commentary with Bill Pohlad and Oren Moverman; A California Story: Creating the Look of Love & Mercy (10:48/HD), about the production design; A-Side/B-Side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson (25:31/HD), the disc's making-of; and some Deleted Scenes (7:27 total/HD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This unconventional, bifurcated musical biopic may not be to everyone's liking, but strong performances by John Cusack and Paul Dano, both portraying The Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson, anchor the narrative. Love & Mercy tackles the 1960s, when Wilson pushes the band into unfamiliar territory, and the 1980s, when Paul Giamatti's therapist rules over an unstable Wilson with questionable motives. The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, and the movie is certainly worth watching. Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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