The life of reclusive Beach Boys songwriter and musician Brian Wilson, from his successes with highly-influential orchestral pop albums to his nervous breakdown and subsequent encounter with controversial therapist Dr. Eugene Landy.
ActorsStarring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks, Kenny Wormald, Jake Abel, Erin Darke, Joanna Going, Brett Davern, Graham Rogers, Dee Wallace
Of course I know a number of Beach Boys hits, but I can’t say I am a particur fan so I didn’t know much about -as per the movie’s tagline- ‘the life, love and genius of Brian Wilson’. Two hours later, and now I do.
It is essentially two movies intertwined into one – one about Wilson in the 60s, where he is played by Paul Dano, and one about Wilson in the 80s, where he is played by John Cusack. Apparently before and during filming, the director (Bill Pohlad) did not allow Dano and Cusack to meet, so as to avoid them developing their respective Wilson characters together. And indeed the two characters are very different in the two decades apart, which is what makes the movie interesting.
The 60s segments show Wilson’s creative highights, his struggles with his dominant father, the battles with the other band members over more fun-fun-fun kind of beach music vs Wilson’s desire to explore creative new directions. All underpinned by growing signs of his mental instability.
The 80s segments show a man devasted by whatever happened in the 70s – this period is not shown but is referenced as being years of escapism, drug abuse, not getting out of bed for 3 years, and ever worsening mental problems. Wilson in the 80s is trying to find his way again, but is held back by an evil, controlling and abusive Dr. Eugene Landy’s (Paul Giamatti) who has legal guardianship over him. He finds a new love in Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) who turns out to be his saviour.
The gap between the ‘two movies’ is however not only not shown, but also not really explained – the fact that in the 80s Wilson has been placed under Dr. Landy’s legal guardianship drives much if not all of the movie’s plot and character’s emotions – but how Landy was appointed to this abusive and controlling position and why Wilson’s family seemed completely out of the picture by then is and remains a mystery to the uninformed viewer.
Overall, it is a well constructed movie, about a not so fascinating topic to a non-fan of Wilson or The Beach Boys. It does succeed in engaging the viewer, but it only really works because it is a biopic and a true story.