Monday, August 1, 2016

Love & Mercy

Year 8, Day 214 - 8/1/16 - Movie #2,409

BEFORE: I wasn't able to watch a film on Sunday night in New Jersey, so I had to watch my Monday night film on Monday night, rather than Monday morning - it's fine, but I'd rather be ahead of the game and knock out my film early, that gives me the whole day to write down my thoughts.  This way forces me to write immediately after viewing the film, which is also fine, but I was going to use this time to go through my watchlist and work out a plan for the rest of the year.  Maybe I'll try to do that as soon as I post. 

John Cusack carries over from "The Prince", and I now realize that I really do need to count my films for the rest of the year - because after this I'll need to make a choice between watching 4 John Cusack films in a row, or in two groups of two with a film in-between.  It's only important because I don't want to fall one film short for the year, or have one too many to watch.  

THE PLOT: In the 1960s, Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson struggles with emerging psychosis as he attempts to craft his avant-garde pop masterpiece. In the 1980s, he is a broken, confused man under the 24-hour watch of shady therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.

AFTER: I've got to remember at the end of the year that music biopics were a popular topic for me this year - I watched "Get On Up" and "CBGB" in January, and "24 Hour Party People" a few months later, and I still want to get to "Sid and Nancy" and "Jersey Boys" before the year is over, and if any channel would run that film about Jimi Hendrix, I want to see that too.  The trend started a few years back with films like "Walk the Line" and "Ray", and it's still going.  Someone's probably working on fictionalized versions of David Bowie and Prince's life stories as I write this.  

"Love & Mercy" uses a unique (I think) trick, casting two actors to play Brian Wilson, one younger and one older, to represent two time periods in his life.  The younger section depicts his time with the Beach Boys, composing albums like "Pet Sounds" and singles like "Good Vibrations", and the older section focuses on the time spent under the care of a therapist who had some kind of psychological influence on him, or had misdiagnosed him and was keeping him medicated.  Or something to that effect, we may never know exactly what went down, but everyone seems to agree that it wasn't on the level.

The only problems with the conceit of using two actors is that first off, the two actors look nothing alike, so it's hard to imagine the younger one growing old and becoming the second one.  Oh, the younger actor, Paul Dano, has an uncanny resemblance - I can buy him as Brian Wilson just fine - but Cusack, not so much.  They're both soft-spoken in this role, but that's where the similarity ends. (EDIT: Based on the footage I saw later of the recording sessions for "Good Vibrations", Brian Wilson looked sort of like a young Alec Baldwin.  So personally, I would have preferred to see Baldwin in the older role, over John Cusack.  All other things aside, at least there would have been more of a physical resemblance.  And wasn't Brian on the heavy side after spending a year or three in bed, eating cheeseburgers?) 

The second problem results from the film toggling between the two time periods, as if they were playing out simultaneously, even though they're set in different decades.  I've railed about techniques like this before, they're frequently used to cover up narrative flaws, like a story that just wouldn't be very interesting if told completely in the proper order.  I wonder if any people in other countries, or people sort of unfamiliar with movies were very confused by this fractured timestream, after all, they never put any dates on the screen to alert the audience that the story was not being told linearly.

Books and comic books do this too, and it works best when one notices similarities or contrasts between the two time periods, or there's some traumatic event in the past that gets alluded to by the present events.  But there's not really anything like that here - so there's less justification for the toggling.  Maybe the events of the past slowly reveal how the Brian Wilson of the present got so messed up, but it's still a contrivance.  It's not like the lead singer of the Beach Boys could travel through his own lifetime like Billy Pilgrim in "Slaughterhouse Five", right?

I mean, who knows, maybe if you're a musical genius, you hear everything in terms of sound collages, and react violently to certain forms of cacaphony, like knives and forks scraping on plates at a dinner party.  Maybe if you're a rock star and you take LSD, it's just a short step from there to spending three years in bed and gaining 300 pounds.  Maybe if you're under the influence of medications giving to you by your legal guardian, when you finally shake off the zombie cucumber you might have one of those experiences like Dave Bowman has at the end of "2001", where your past self meets your future self, and vice versa.  We'll never know, because Brian Wilson's combination of genius and drugs both legal and illegal gave him a unique perspective.  Anything that tries to recreate his story from his P.O.V. would be involved in guesswork at best.  

Still, I enjoyed the footage of the recording sessions quite a bit - it was a trip watching "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "Good Vibrations" getting sonically assembled, even if it was just a mock-up of the real recording sessions.  And it was interesting to be how hearing The Beatles' "Rubber Soul" album pushed Brian to be more creative and collage-oriented when working on "Pet Sounds".  

Also starring Paul Dano (last seen in "12 Years a Slave"), Elizabeth Banks (last heard in "The Lego Movie"), Paul Giamatti (last heard in "Turbo"), Jake Abel (last seen in "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters"), Kenny Wormald, Brett Davern, Graham Rogers, Erin Darke, Joanna Going, Bill Camp (last seen in "Aloha"), with cameos from Dee Wallace and the real Brian Wilson.

RATING: 5 out of 10 session musicians

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