Monthly Archive for: ‘May, 2015’

Love and Mercy — Film Review

Love and Mercy

Directed by Bill Pohlad




This is a superb rendering of the life and music of Brian Wilson, the creative force behind the Beach Boys of the 1960s and 70s.  It is a fascinating, complex story — and distinctly incomplete.  When they introduced the film at the San Francisco International Film Festival, they mentioned that Brian Wilson had seen the film and pronounced it an accurate depiction of his life.

Brian Wilson struggled with severe mental illness.  He was certainly psychotic at times in his life, although his psychologist’s (Eugene Landy) diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia was later repudiated by doctors at UCLA.  It is not so important for our purposes to try to pin down an accurate psychiatric diagnosis, but Brian Wilson has presented a number of psychotic symptoms in his adult  life.  He heard voices, had delusions, extreme anxieties, he has been extremely withdrawn for long periods of time, at one point spending up to three years in bed.  He drank a lot, abused many drugs, overate, became obese, engaged in many forms of self destructive behavior.  Nearly died.  But he was lucky.  At crucial points in his life he was able to find people who pulled him back from the brink.  One of them was Eugene Landy, a psychologist who was nearly as crazy as he was.  Landy was controlling, manipulative, and corrupt, but his overbearing style might have been just what a man who was completely out of control needed, at least for a while.  However, Landy’s “treatment” — which amounted to taking over Brian Wilson’s life and overdoping him with a plethora of drugs — might have killed him if he hadn’t been rescued by the woman who became his second wife, Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks).

The film is divided into two parallel stories.  One of them is this saga of Melinda liberating Brian from Eugene Landy.  The other is the struggles and tensions of the Beach Boys at the height of their fame and Brian’s creative output, concentrating on the character of Brian Wilson.  The film is skillfully put together and these two parallel narratives work well without getting in each other’s way.  Elizabeth Banks, is beautiful, sensitive, and perfectly suited to her portrayal of Melinda Ledbetter.  Her beauty and personal magnetism give this film much of its strength.  I wouldn’t say that she takes over the film, but she is a very strong, dominating presence.  You can’t help but be captivated by her.  The film does what it does expertly and effectively, but at the same time it awakens further interest in this extraordinarily complex individual, the incredible struggles of his life, and the fabulous music he was able to produce in the midst of it all.  Seen at the San Francisco International Film Festival May 4, 2015.

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