Love & Mercy (2014)

Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with a film, it just doesn’t grab you. Love & Mercy is a fine film. It has solid performances, an atypical approach to the band film, and solid stints of music. I wonder if it’s my general indifference to the ‘60s music scene or maybe it’s the lack of context that holds the film back. Compare Love & Mercy to Inside Llewyn Davis, a film brimming with context and a vibrant sense of place and time.

I know many will say that The Beach Boys are timeless, and that’s the problem. This could be any story of any band that had one of its members go off the deep in. Brian Wilson (played in the ‘60s by Paul Dano and the ‘80s by John Cusack) certainly earns sympathy but there’s little context to his world. He’s so distant and detached from everything. At times, he doesn’t even seem to be on planet earth.

And while that’s probably the point, depicting a man unable to come to grips with reality, just because a film reaches what it achieves doesn’t make it a compelling film. Most of the good moments in this film are the bits set to Beach Boys music or scenes with Paul Dano who far outshines John Cusack here with a much more complex and interesting arc.

To go back to Inside Llewyn Davis, context is key. A film that could be anytime and anywhere is often too generic. Characters become vessels, plot points become interchangeable, conflicts have no arcs or resolution. It’s a shame because the elevator pitch sounds like a great movie, but once committed to the screen, the problems become apparent.

© 2016 James Blake Ewing