STAY­ING TRUE TO RE­AL­ITY

There have been a few at­tempts to tell the Beach Boys’ story on film. This is the only one to re­ceive the band leader’s ap­proval

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - MOVIES - SANDY CO­HEN

With a shuf­fling gait and wear­ing jeans, sneak­ers and a blue plaid shirt that matches his eyes, Brian Wil­son is at the cen­tre of a Hol­ly­wood whirl­wind.

He’s been rush­ing to screen­ings, giv­ing in­ter­views and pos­ing for pho­tos as his new biopic pre­pares to hit Aus­tralian theatres to­day. “It’s a trip,” Wil­son says. Ten years in the mak­ing, Love & Mercy takes an un­flinch­ing look at Wil­son’s pow­er­ful cre­ative en­ergy and de­bil­i­tat­ing men­tal ill­ness, de­mys­ti­fy­ing the man who cre­ated the sunny sounds of the Beach Boys be­fore de­scend­ing into a dark world of per­sonal demons.

“The first time I watched it, it was like a real test for my emo­tions,” Wil­son says in his typ­i­cal clipped dic­tion. “It por­trays me so well that I felt like I was be­ing pushed into the movie.”

That meant re-ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some of his high­est highs and low­est lows.

Love & Mercy fo­cuses on two for­ma­tive pe­ri­ods in the mu­si­cian’s life, sep­a­rated by 20 years. Paul Dano plays the younger Wil­son at per­haps the peak of his cre­ative ge­nius, when he stayed be­hind from the Beach Boys’ world tour to cre­ate his opus Pet Sounds.

Feel­ing con­fined by surf mu­sic and in­spired by the Bea­tles’ 1965 al­bum Rub­ber Soul, Wil­son wanted to ex­pand the Beach Boys’ sound and give form to the melodies and har­monies he imag­ined.

He em­ployed an or­ches­tra, climbed in­side a pi­ano to plink its strings with a bobby pin, and in­cor­po­rated ev­ery­day sounds like keys jan­gling or dogs bark­ing into the songs.

Com­mer­cially dis­ap­point­ing at first, Pet Sounds is now con­sid­ered one of the most in­flu­en­tial com­po­si­tions in pop­u­lar mu­sic.

But it was such a sonic de­par­ture that it caused a rift in the band, which ex­ac­er­bated an emerg­ing per­sonal cri­sis for Wil­son. He be­gan show­ing signs of men­tal ill­ness, hear­ing ca­cophonous voices and sounds in his head.

John Cu­sack plays Wil­son in the 1980s, a bro­ken man, heav­ily med­i­cated and ter­ri­bly in­se­cure, un­der con­stant watch by his Sven­gali-like psy­chother­a­pist, Eu­gene Landy (Paul Gia­matti). While shop­ping for a Cadil­lac, the trou­bled mu­si­cian forms an in­stant con­nec­tion with saleslady Melinda Led­bet­ter (El­iz­a­beth Banks), who would go on to lib­er­ate him from Landy’s care and be­come Wil­son’s sec­ond wife.

Di­rec­tor Bill Pohlad in­ter­weaves the two nar­ra­tives, cre­at­ing a por­trait both painful and tri­umphant. “I was look­ing at how to get into the story in a way that wasn’t a typ­i­cal biopic. I hate that,” says Pohlad, a long­time pro­ducer whose cred­its in­clude Wild and 12 Years A Slave. “If we were go­ing to do a movie about Brian, I wanted it to be in­ti­mate. I wanted to know what this guy was all about.”

Wil­son and Led­bet­ter were in­volved with the mak­ing of the film, spend­ing time and shar­ing per­sonal sto­ries with the di­rec­tor and his cast.

Wil­son says he was ner­vous about the movie and found parts of it up­set­ting to watch (“Some of it was pretty rough”), but he also came away in­spired – re­minded, per­haps, of that feel­ing of all-en­com­pass­ing cre­ativ­ity. “I can see Paul Dano do­ing it in the stu­dio, but I can­not re­mem­ber ac­tu­ally record­ing in the stu­dio,” Wil­son says.

“It brings back mem­o­ries, like ‘How could I have done that?!’”

“That was prob­a­bly my favourite week of act­ing ever,” Dano says, “do­ing those scenes in the stu­dio where he recorded Pet Sounds.”

Cu­sack and Wil­son say they gleaned much of their in­sight into Wil­son by lis­ten­ing to his mu­sic.

Both ac­tors say they were hon­oured to por­tray such a sen­si­tive, in­tu­itive char­ac­ter.

“When you see his mu­sic, you see he’s a spirit – a ce­les­tial spirit that can do any­thing, his imag­i­na­tion brings it – and we need those north stars,” Cu­sack says.

John Cu­sack as Brian Wil­son and El­iz­a­beth Banks as Melinda Led­bet­ter in

Love & Mercy.

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