“Love & Mercy”, on OCS City: inside the mind of Brian Wilson, genius of the Beach Boys


God only knows what’s going through Brian Wilson’s head. Played by Paul Dano in Love & Mercy, the film that Bill Pohlad devotes to him, he says “not understanding where it comes from”. That’s the music, his music. The unique sound of the Beach Boys, of which he composed and performed most of the songs and which seems to hum so easily.

But his texts are often light only on the surface. As the career of the Beach Boys progresses, the orchestration ventures towards more astonishing sonorities, the rhythms change, the melody becomes melancholy.

Like his songs, Brian Wilson hides many things under his good-natured airs: he is diagnosed – abusively will later estimate doctors – schizophrenic. Perhaps he is especially surprised at ” do not understand “ that something coherent, a fortiori beautiful, can come out of the hubbub of music and voices that fills his head.

At the height of this hubbub, in the 1970s, was a long depression. Because of it, the musician doubles up. Paul Dano plays the Brian of old, overcoming his vertigo to take the Beach Boys to their artistic peak, with the album Pet Sounds. John Cusack plays the Brian after the fall, trying to get up under the soothing gaze of a woman.

Primitive hubbub

Duplication is risky: it did poorly for Todd Haynes, who had put himself in the lead, with I’m Not There (2007), to revive Bob Dylan in a kaleidoscope, with six different actors. Built around two actors, Love & Mercy is simpler than it appears: it builds not a face-to-face, but a curious triangulation around Dano, Cusack and the depressive Brian that a third actor could embody, offscreen, dark side that the we are forced to imagine him.

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From this coming and going does emerge a single character, surprisingly clear. Like music, form arises from apparent disorder. Also, more than the euphoria of the concerts, the spotless product that comes out of the studio, Love & Mercy is he interested in the intermediate states of the sound of the Beach Boys. First, this primitive brouhaha in Brian’s head, which an inspired staging strives to make felt more than it imitates it: a mixture of voices, cries, notes, which finds as if by accidental moments of harmony, like an orchestra tuning up.

This studied cacophony is not always pleasing to the ear, but its effect is doubly beautiful. It perfectly conveys the feeling of the composer’s inner chaos, it shows as a miracle his ability to draw a form from all this, and even more a song. And because it destroys in order to rebuild better, it allows the ears, too comfortably installed in the memory of music that we believe we know by heart, to rehear God Only Knows as if discovering it for the first time.

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“Love & Mercy”, on OCS City: inside the mind of Brian Wilson, genius of the Beach Boys

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