The history of Brian Wilson's mental state is no secret. And if you're looking to unearth any via Bill Pohlad's biopic, Love & Mercy, you're not likely to. Hailed as an innovative approach to the genre due to its bifurcated style, the film, co-written by Michael Alan Lerner and Oren Moverman (who also wrote the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There), relies heavily on the switching back and forth between two eras in Wilson's in life.
Opening with a black screen and a barrage of Beach Boys' sounds, we're given an immediate glimpse into the importance of the auditory that will remain a constant throughout the film. Indeed, it was in large part because of Wilson's aural hallucinations that he stopped touring with the band at the height of their own version of Beatlemania.
Instead promising his brothers and bandmates a barrage of sounds to record to when they returned, Wilson took to the studio to come up with masterpieces like "God Only Knows" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" that would appear on 1966's Pet Sounds. Working with the best studio musicians of the time, Wilson awed his fellow musicphiles, yet alienated his fellow band members--not to mention the constant invocation of disapproval from his father, Murry Wilson, who was very much a precursor to the Michael Jackson-type father, hating his son for his succes and talent, yet needing him desperately for money and to prove his own self-worth.
As Pohlad devotes equal amounts of screen time to both epochs in Brian's life, the audience is left hoping that perhaps there will be a moment when the early and later periods meet in the middle--at the height of Wilson's despair and drug addiction. But alas, Pohlad never gives in to teetering too far on the dark side, only deviating truly from the conventional biopic structure when all of Wilson's selves encounter one another in the same bed they've each shared misery in their whole lives.
As for Elizabeth Banks' angelic rescuing role of Melinda Ledbetter, the car saleswoman who hesitantly falls for Wilson in spite of the constant team of bodyguards he has put in place by Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti)--his caretaker and Svengali-like therapist--well, it proves Banks is very capable of taking on a serious film and holding her own. Melinda also plays into the unique ending of Love & Mercy, which is faintly reminiscent of Garden State in that the couple at risk of being apart decides to say "Fuck it" regardless of knowing only one thing: they don't know what's going to happen. It is also perhaps the first ending in which we don't get to hear what they're saying to each other--again appealing to the power of sound and silence that has been so all-consuming and significant in Wilson's life.