Love and Mercy (USA, 2015)

downloadDirected by: Bill Pohlad. The history of music biopics is a mixed one, and my opinion of the genre is informed largely by my coming of age in the mid-2000s, the decade that brought such canon-solidifying hits as Ray and Walk the Line, in addition to arthouse masterpiece Control, as well as the absurd parody  (and prime guilty pleasure) Walk Hard. So when I saw the trailer for this one, I was pretty skeptical. This film has a lot of the things I hate about music biopics, most importantly, the finished studio master track being used as karaoke track for the musicians singing off the cuff for a take, or worse, at a live performance. And the central idea of the film, the two actors, was something I was on the fence about: on the one hand, I admired the audacity of this movie (and the fact that they weren’t going to put the young actor in “old makeup” which I fucking hate), but on the other hand, I had pretty mixed feelings about Paul Dano in general. Could this work? But hey, who am I kidding? Brian Wilson is one of my favourites of all time, the Beach Boys songs are permanently embedded into my DNA and there was no way in a million years that I wasn’t going to see this movie. And the jury says…pretty good! I dug this movie. I give this movie one dig out of one dig. It wasn’t amazing, it didn’t revolutionize the genre of musical biopics (it kind of towed the party line as far as tortured, misunderstood geniuses go), and it didn’t really change my esteem for Wilson, which was already high to begin with. What the film did do was raise my esteem for all of the actors in this, including Paul Dano, for whom this film is a major accomplishment I think. This was also a great choice for Cusack, who’s really an excellent actor, in addition to being a handsome leading man. Did you see The Paperboy? And of course, Giamatti is an excellent bad guy, as always. The big breakout, though, is Elizabeth Banks, who kind of takes the lead in this movie, even though she’s only in one half of this unconventionally-structured, two-faced, before-and-after film. I had to look it up, but the only other thing I’ve seen her in is W, Oliver Stone’s hammer-on-the-head but still enjoyable George Bush biopic as Laura Bush. And come to think of it, I think she serves kind of the same function in that movie, in the sense that she’s kind of a scene-stealing presence, being by far the most intelligent, forthright, sensible, rational human being, the only character with a good head on her shoulders and two feet on the ground. And though a lamentably high amount of great women actors are relegated to cookie-cutter, 2-D roles as the “supportive wife whose strength helps the tortured and misunderstood male genius rise to brilliance”, in both cases, Elizabeth Banks really makes the role her own, so that by the end, the built-in admiration that we’re all supposed to feel for the male protagonist is shared so completely by the admiration we grow for the “supportive wife” that the “supportive wife” becomes, I would argue, much more centrally important than the male protagonist. Basically, now that the dust has settled, I look back on this film as two films: one film about Paul Dano becoming a crazy man, and another film about Elizabeth Banks rising to the occasion to become a hero and save this wayward soul that Paul Dano/John Cusack has become. She is the hero of the movie. The movie only gives her about 30% of the screentime, but she’s still the hero of the movie. In short, Elizabeth Banks fucking rules, and we should all keep an eye out for her.

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One response to “Love and Mercy (USA, 2015)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2016 | Offhand Reviews·

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