Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Love & Mercy (2015)

Film: Love & Mercy (2015)
Stars: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti
Director: Bill Pohlad
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 2/5 stars

Ugh, I was not pleased when I found out that this was going to be an Oscar contender, and was admittedly avoiding it like the plague.  Musical biopics are pretty much my kryptonite in recent years, with all of them following similar formulas.  Don't get me wrong here-Brian Wilson is a titan of the world of popular music, and had the sort of life that was kind of destined for the big screen, but yet another tortured genius who eventually finds redemption, all the while having a soggy, predictable script propped up by a soundtrack of warm, wonderful classics?  Again?  Throw in three actors that arguably would be at the top of the "Movie Stars I Avoid" list give or take Terence Howard (it says something that Elizabeth Banks, an actor I am largely indifferent toward, was a godsend on this call sheet) and you have arguably the OVP contender I was most hoping to avoid.  However, with Dano in serious contention for the film, I couldn't stay out of Bill Pohlad's meandering look at two different phases of Brian Wilson's life, and finally, bravely, got the Netflix disc off my desk.

(Spoilers Ahead) And I will fully admit I was "meh" at best here.  Like I suspected, the film is rife with meaty, intense scenes.  I was thankful to Bill Pohlad for largely ignoring the hellish childhood that Wilson endured at the hand of his tyrannical father, even though we could feel that pain in his adulthood, particularly in the film's scenes surrounding Paul Dano.  The film alternates between two key moments of Wilson's life: the creation of Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys' initially unsuccessful album that would later be hailed as a landmark, and is quite frankly one of the greatest records ever made, and later in his life during the throes of Eugene Landy's control over Wilson and his mind, which eventually resulted in Wilson's family going to court to get Landy to stop his practice with Wilson.

The film's story is very well-known to anyone who has followed Wilson's career, and so I wasn't particularly surprised by any new information here.  Everyone who has read a tabloid knows about Wilson's problems, and I remember reading about the insanity that followed this moment in the troubled rock star's life with a gaping mouth.  As a result, I was pretty bored here, as the execution never really rises above the story.  This is potentially unfair (it's not the movie's fault that I knew what had happened to Wilson), but other biopics such as Milk or The Social Network found ways to rise above such situations.  In many ways the film felt, though, like Truth earlier this year-hollow and a bit one-sided even if the subject itself is insanely compelling, and definitely held back by being a story we know too well.

The acting is what has been cited by champions of the movie, but I saw nothing here to challenge my perceptions of the main actors.  Paul Dano is someone that I actually thought was fascinating and maybe even good in There Will Be Blood, but his penchant for overplaying his hand in films since has made his name in the credits something I dread.  Here he thankfully underplays certain moments of Wilson's life, and there's a charm there in the lighter scenes that I wouldn't have expected, but this is merely getting the job done and not a performance I considered remotely special.  The same could be said for John Cusack and Elizabeth Banks-both get meaty parts and I think that the critical community is eager to validate these two as "actors" rather than just a former movie star and a game performer, respectively, but I wasn't wowed by anything here and I felt that Cusack especially couldn't find his footing with Wilson as a character.  Paul Giamatti, though, is truly awful-while the other three are merely forgettable, Giamatti's Eugene Landy, a seismic figure who had a bizarre place in entertainment history (he was also linked to Oscar winner Gig Young, who died in a horrible murder-suicide in the 1970's), is a showcase of bad acting.  Giamatti, who came to all of our attention in Sideways over a decade ago, is someone that cannot resist any opportunity to wipe away nuance and find shading in favor of a big, gaudy diatribe.  His work in the movie is terrible.

All-in-all, I think that this is less a bad movie and more a boring one.  I can't bring myself to give it one-star, so I'm going to go with my typical two-star "unimpressed" bucket, though it has very little to lend itself to other than fine music and occasionally interesting scenes with Jake Abel (in my opinion the best performance in the film) as a combative Mike Love.  Instead of seeing the movie, do yourself a favor and buy Pet Sounds.  That'd be an experience worth raving about, and be worthy of the year-end awards that this movie is unfortunately eliciting.

Those are my thoughts-let's get yours.  Were you a fan of Love & Mercy, or did you leave as unimpressed as I did?  Do you think Dano or Banks have a shot at the Oscar?  And what is the appeal of Paul Giamatti anymore?  Share below!

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