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The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Michael Bodey Twit­ter: @michael­bodey

Love and Mercy sep­a­rates it­self from its crowded genre even be­fore the open­ing cred­its. The open­ing it­self is a witty, sharp es­tab­lish­ing mon­tage in which this tale about the Beach Boys breezily jumps through the kind of per­for­mance and adu­la­tion vi­sion that can bur­den other mu­si­cal biopics, which tend to lurch from con­cert or stu­dio set pieces to your stan­dard mu­si­cal ge­nius abus­ing or ig­nor­ing his wife and fam­ily.

Be­fore the cred­its, Bill Pohlad’s un­con­ven­tional look at the life of Brian Wil­son es­tab­lishes this film’s modus operandi. As it should be, it is about the mu­sic.

A close-up of Brian Wil­son’s ear is ac­com­pa­nied by the whizzing sounds and in­spi­ra­tions in Wil­son’s mind and the film does its darnedest through­out to try to con­vey the in­spi­ra­tion driv­ing Wil­son’s ge­nius from within. Pohlad is aided im­mea­sur­ably by com­poser At­ti­cus Ross, who won an Academy Award with Trent Reznor for their work on The So­cial Net­work, and whose col­lages are just per­fect for this ex­plo­ration of Wil­son.

Not that it’s hard to stand out among mu­si­cal biopics right now. A num­ber of re­cent drama­ti­sa­tions haven’t even made it to cine­mas, in­clud­ing a not-so-bad look at James Brown, Get On Up, and the trou­bled film about Jimi Hen­drix, Jimi: All is by My Side. Then there are com­ing films about Ja­nis Jo­plin, Hank Wil­liams ( I Saw the Light) and Miles Davis ( Miles Ahead, di­rected by and star­ring Don Chea­dle).

So let’s savour Love and Mercy, which is two films. The first, fea­tur­ing Paul Dano as a young Wil­son telling the band to tour with­out him as he stays home to de­velop what would be­come the Beach Boys’ mas­ter­piece, Pet Sounds, is more ef­fec­tive, for two rea­sons.

First, Dano de­picts a more af­fect­ing, gen­tle char­ac­ter than John Cusack’s weirder 1980s Wil­son. Also, Dano has the bet­ter part of the script, while Cusack’s post-breakdown Wil­son is a shell of a man who strikes a sweet friend­ship with a car sales­woman (El­iz­a­beth Banks’s Melinda) while be­ing abused by his psy­chol­o­gist and le­gal guardian, Paul Gia­matti’s Eu­gene Landy. It is Cusack’s best role for some time, al­though Dano is al­lowed to show a more en­tic­ing young man.

But the sound is the thing and Love and Mercy gets it glo­ri­ously right. The at­ten­tion to de­tail in the ge­n­e­sis of Pet Sounds is in­tox­i­cat­ing, even to some­one who doesn’t con­sider him­self a par­tic­u­lar fan of the sem­i­nal al­bum. As Wil­son as­sem­bles ses­sion mu­si­cians and their un­likely in­stru­ments for the record­ing, one can’t help but be re­minded of just how rev­o­lu­tion­ary the al­bum turned out to be. And sadly, how it marked an in­di­vid­ual’s early zenith.

Love and Mercy (M, Icon, 159min, $39.95) is a mu­si­cally in­ven­tive trib­ute to a ge­nius that is a credit to the genre. Who knew a biopic about a muso needed to be so au­rally savvy?

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