Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Brilliant Brian Wilson Biopic LOVE & MERCY Out Today On Blu Ray/DVD

Despite that I largely preferred the Paul Dano parts over the John Cusack ones, Bill Pohlad’s Brian Wilson biopic LOVE & MERCY is one of my favorite films of the last year. Out today on Blu ray and DVD, the movie features Dano as the young ‘60s “Pet Sounds”/”SMiLE”-era Brian, who’s trying to break free from the control of his abusive father (Murray Wilson played by Bill Camp); and Cusack as the middle-aged Brian who’s trying to break free from the control of his abusive therapist (Eugene Landy played by Paul Giamatti). 

I reviewed the film very favorably upon its theatrical release in my area last June, but I stressed that I was bothered that while Dano was appropriately outfitted and groomed, there was no attempt to make Cusack resemble Wilson. I wrote: “It’s just Cusack with his jet black hair, wearing shirts he’d normally wear, like he just walked on to the set and refused to take part in any hair and make-up nonsense.”

So when I received a review copy of LOVE & MERCY on Blu ray, I was intrigued to dive into the Special Features, especially one entitled “A California Story: Creating the Look of LOVE & MERCY,” to see if Cusack’s lack of proper aesthetic was addressed. The 10 minute featurette has director/producer Pohlad and the production designer Keith Cunningham discussing how they went about capturing three different eras – the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s - via sets and wardrobe, and using real locations such as the actual still-standing studios that Wilson recorded in.

Costume Designer Danny Glicker chimes in about the wardrobe worn by The Beach Boys, Elizabeth Banks, and Giamatti, but never comments on the choice of the fairly modern looking button down shirts Cusack wears, or anything about the man’s part of “the look” of the film.

In another featurette, “A-side/B-side: Portraying the Life of Brian Wilson,” which is much longer (25 min.), and mixes photos and footage of the real Wilson with interviews with cast and crew, and clips of the film, Cusack’s appearance is touched on by one of the producers, Claire Rudnick Polstein: “We really weren’t that concerned with that they look alike, it really wasn’t about that, it was really more about having the essence of who Brian was.”

There are over seven minutes of Deleted Scenes, all of which are from the Dano sections of the film. Unlike many deleted scenes that are added to Blu ray and DVDs like this, these are actually worth watching. The first, “Brian Meets His Idol,” has Brian fanboying out in the presence of Phil Spector (Jonathan Slavin), who’s an asshole in return (“I’m not much interested in surf bands”). The next, “Brian Talks With His Family,” reveals how the Beach Boys leader broke the news that he wasn’t going to tour anymore. The brief “Brian Looks For a Collaborator” isn’t much, but the last and best cut clip, “Murray Interrupts The Recording Session,” has the blustery Camp doing his meddling thing while the Beach Boys are trying to lay the vocals down on “I Get Around,” and, of course, upsetting Brian.

These deleted scenes reinforce my nagging feelings that maybe the film would’ve been better if it was just Dano as Brian, but I can’t completely discard the Cusack element. Especially when I hear Dano say in one of those featurettes, “I think John did a beautiful job, and I think the juxtaposition is an important part of it too though, ‘how did this person become that?’”

This leaves the film’s Commentary with Pohlad and Executive Producer/Co-Writer Oren Moverman. Pohlad and Moverman entertainingly talk about the process of cutting back and forth between the narratives, and how they worked with the actors, but halfway through I realized that they were never gonna say anything insightful about how odd it was that Dano was made to look like their subject and Cusack wasn’t. I just wanted a stray comment like about how Wilson never wore a leather jacket like the one Cusask wears on one of his dates with Banks – you know, something like “that was just what John was wearing that day,” but no such luck.

Anyway, LOVE & MERCY is now available on home video with some cool special features. It’s one of the best musical biodocs in many a moon, as long as the oddly mismatched Cusack factor is overlooked. I guess, that’s where the mercy comes in.

Final thought: It's kind of funny how Cusack's good pal, and co-star in six films, Tim Robbins, did a much more convincing Brian Wilson in a Saturday Night Live sketch back in 1992. You can watch the sketch, in which Robbin's Wilson is being interviewed by Kevin Nealon's Larry King, here.

More later...

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