3 Stars – Challenging
The music of the Beach Boys is an iconic reminder of 1950’s Americana and their musical lyrics and style has become legendary. In many ways, these young musicians matched Hollywood’s ability to define the image of California – blond, at the beach, laid back – the beautiful life of the post-war young.
Created and performed by the Wilson brothers of Hawthorne, California, these non-surfing young men looked the part and captured the hearts of young women everywhere. At the center of this creativity was Brian Wilson whose innovative genius shaped much of the music that we all know today. Unfortunately, Brian had many demons that invaded his life, including drugs and alcohol, which exacerbated his mental instability.
Playing a young Brian, Paul Dano gives a stellar performance that gives us a glimpse of what descending into paranoid schizophrenia looks like. In his older years, Brian (played by John Cusack) is virtually held hostage by his Psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) who was eventually exposed for his defrauding of Brian by over-prescribing medications that made his condition worse and then taking control of his life and finances.
Leading the effort to expose Landy’s manipulative intent is a woman named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) who met Brian when he attempted to by a new car from her. Her eventual success in proving her point, along with the love she shared with Brian, becomes the heart of the story and leads to eventual healing.
The Beach Boy phenomena paralleled the time period of Elvis Presley from the late 1950’s through the mid 1960’s before they were eclipsed by the Beatles and rock music. And yet, the songs created by Brian Wilson are as recognizable today as they were then.
Certainly one of the greatest influences of their young lives was their father Murry (Bill Camp) who had been their manager until the boys fired him. Like many “stage parents”, Murry was more interested in his sons’ living out his own dreams than he was in shepherding the lives of his family. Brian craved the approval of his father, but rarely got it, which certainly added to his descent into a life of drugs. To add insult to injury, Murry sold the rights to all of the Beach Boys songs to a major record company for $750,000 without their knowledge.
At the core of Love and Mercy is the fine line between creative genius and social, mental, and spiritual instability. The music they created was genius, but without a strong, stable base from which to operate, the chances of withstanding the storms of life in the public arena were almost impossible. Any one factor, including a father who loved them, could have made such a difference in the road they had to travel. Without a mentor of spiritual and relational strength, these young men were on their own to find stability amongst their peers – all of whom were chasing fame, fortune, drugs, and sex.
Love and Mercy is a morality tale of the side effects of seeking fame. The lure is that of a creative license to share your dreams, but the price is costly and highly deceptive. It is a reminder of how valuable it is to have a core group of healthy friends, family, and a disciplined spiritual community. Such a support gives one a chance of survival in a world intent on sucking the life out of you. If you don’t have this stability in your life, then making a choice to seek such a community first will save your life, and then all these other things will be added unto you.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
- The necessity of protecting the soul of a gifted person is historically obvious. Why do you think we do not do so? What do you think their loss is costing us as a nation and a world?
- A father or mother who uses their children for his or her own emotional or financial gain is despicable. But why do you think this is so often the case with child stars?
- It is difficult to imagine the music scene in America without the Beach Boys? Do you think in the modern era of social media they would have been exposed as not actually living the life they sang about? Is it necessary for an artist to live what they portray?