Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Beach Boys 17: Love & Mercy

One of the better musical films of recent years was Love & Mercy, which purported to tell of the romance between Brian Wilson and his current wife, against the backdrop of the power struggle between Brian’s demons and Dr. Eugene Landy (played with typically bewigged yelling by Paul Giamatti, who’s made a career out of wearing wigs and yelling), juxtaposed with flashbacks to the Pet Sounds era.
The role of Brian was split between young Paul Dano, whose bowl cut helped accentuate the fragility, and John Cusack, who doesn’t really look like Brian but manages to command attention. (We predict that one day he’ll get all the quirky roles that Bill Murray is mastering now.) Much like I’m Not There, which split seven perceived facets of Bob Dylan’s personality between seven actors, it’s best to appreciate the film for capturing the mood and setting of the ‘60s and ‘80s. Besides, most people going into the theater likely knew the ending anyway.
To that end, the recreations of the studio sessions were said to be highly accurate, and the actors chosen to play the other Beach Boys were also believable, both in their befuddlement over Brian’s condition and Mike Love’s frustration at his cousin’s quirkiness. And we have no trouble watching Elizabeth Banks do anything.
So while it’s not really a Beach Boys movie, the eventual soundtrack album had to include music originally credited to them, and it does, but there’s more. The score can be best described as an ambient mashup; composer Atticus Ross weaves in elements of dozens of Beach Boys tracks sourced from the original master tapes to paint a sonic mural of Brian’s head. While often illustrating edgy scenes, the effect is more hypnotic than unsettling (except when some dialogue creeps in).
If anything, the inclusion of the well-known recordings of “Don’t Worry Baby”, “God Only Knows” and “Good Vibrations” distract from the effect of the score. However, Paul Dano’s hesitant rendition of “God Only Knows” and the live recording of the real Brian Wilson singing the song from which the film took its title (both depicted in the film) provide context and closure, respectively. We don’t even mind “One Kind Of Love”, a song from Brian’s most recent solo album, which works as accompaniment to the closing credits.
Just as most viewers were already Beach Boys fans, they probably also have the music that the film shows being created. This album makes a nice bonus feature on the music’s history, and the magic of programmable CD players and iTunes playlists can isolate the new montages.

Atticus Ross Music From Love & Mercy: The Life, Love And Genius Of Brian Wilson (2015)—3

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