Dilettante's Diary

July 1, 2015

Who Do I Think I Am?
Index: Movies
Index: Writing
Index: Theatre
Index: Music
Index: Exhibitions
Artists' Blogs
Index: TV, Radio and Misc
NOVEMBER 3, 2023
Aug 2, 2023
July 4, 2023
Apr 21, 2023
Feb 10, 2023
Jan 24, 2023
Jan 11, 2023
Dec 2, 2022
July 26, 2022
July 4, 2022
June 2, 2022
March 25, 2022
March 11, 2022
Feb 14, 2022
Nov 19, 2021
Oct 2021
Sept 16, 2021
July 21, 2021
July 15, 2021
June 11, 2021
Apr 23, 2021
March 12, 2021
Feb 13, 2021
Jan 5, 2021
December 2020
Autumn Mysteries 2020
Aug 12/20
May 25/20
Apr 30/20
March 12/20
Dec 6/19
Jan 29/20
Nov 10/19
Oct 24/19
Sept 30/19
Aug 2/19
June 22/19
May 26/19
Apr 22/19
Feb 23/19
Jan 15/19
Dec 20/18
Dec 3/18
Oct 3/18
Sept 9/18
Aug 9/18
July 19/18
June 2/18
May 14/18
Apr 23/18
Feb 22/18
Dec 13/17
Nov 22/17
Nov 3/17
Oct 5/17
Sept 21/17
Aug 3/17
June 16/17
Mar 21/17
Feb 26/17
Feb 9/17
Jan 30/17
Dec 19/16
Dec 11/16
Nov 20/16
Sept 17/2016
Aug 21/16
July 17/16
June 29/16
June 2/16
Apr 23/16
Feb 28/16
Feb 1/16
Jan 27/16
Winter Reading 2016
Dec 15/15
Nov 19/15
Fall Reading 2015
Oct 29/15
Sept 16/15
Sept 4/15
July 29, 2015
July 1, 2015
June 7/15
Summer Reading 2015
May 19/15
Apr 30/15
Apr 19/15
Spring Reading 2015
March 23/15
March 11/15
Winter Reading 2015
Feb 20/15
Feb 8/15
Jan 29/15
Jan 20/15
Highs 'N Lows of 2014
Dec 19/14
Dec 2/14
Nov 10/14
Oct 29/14
Fall Reading 2014
Sept 17/14
Summer Reading 2014
Aug 22/14
Aug 8/14
July 11/14
June 16/14
May 28/14
Apr 30/14
Apr 16/14
Apr 2/14
March 21, 2014
March 13/14
Feb 11/14
Sept 23/13
Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
Sabbath's Theater by PHILIP ROTH
July 18/13
Summer Reading 2013
June 19/13
May 30/13
Spring Reading 2013
May 10/13
Apr 18/13
Mar 29/13
March 14, 2013
The Artist Project 2013
Feb 25/13
Winter Reading 2013
Feb 7/13
Jan 22/13
Jan 12/13
A Toast to 2012
Dec 19/12
Dec 16/12
Dec 4/12
Fall Reading 2012
Nov 17/12
Nov 6/12
Art Toronto 2012
Oct 23/12
Oct 4/12
Sept 28/12
Summer Reading 2012
Aug 26/12
Aug 8/12
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012
July 14/12
June 28/12
May 27/12
May 20/12
May 4/12
La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
Apr 21/12
Apr 6/12
Mar 22/12
Mar 9/12
The Artist Project 2012
Academy Awards Show 2012
Feb 26/12
Feb 11/12
Jan 23/12
Jan 15/12
Jan 7/12
Dec 20/11
Dec 12/11
Nov 27/11
Nov 18/11
Nov 7/11
Art Toronto 2011
Oct 22/11
Oct 17/11
Sept 30, 2011
Summer Reading 2011
Aug 11/11
July 28, 2011
July 19/11
TOAE 2011
June 25/11
June 20/11
June 2/11
May 14/11
Apr 29/11
Toronto Art Expo 2011
Apr 11/11
March 24/11
The Artist Project 2011
March 11/11
Feb 23/11
Feb 7/11
Jan 21/11
Jan 17/11
Dec 21/10
Dec 6/10
Nov 11/10
Fall Reading 2010
Oct 22/10
Summer Reading 2010
Aug 9/10
Aug 2/10
TOAE 2010
July 16/10
The Shack
June 27/10
June 3/10
May 5/10
April 17/10
Mar 28/10
Mar 17/10
The Artist Project 2010
Toronto Art Expo 2010
Feb 22/10
Feb 3/10
Notables of '09
Jan 11/10
Dec 31/09
Dec 17/09
How Fiction Works
Nov 24/09
Sex for Saints
Nov 11/09
Oct 22/09
Oct 6/09
Sept 18/09
Aug 23/09
July 31/09
July 17/09
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009
Toronto Fringe 2009
Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
June 28/09
June 6/09
Myriad Mysteries 2009
May 10/09
CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
April 14/09
March 24/09
Toronto Art Expo '09
March 1/09
The Jesus Sayings
Feb 8/09
Jan 26/09
Jan 10/09
Stand-outs of 2008
Dec 24/08
Dec 4/08
Nov 16/08
Oct 27/08
Oct 16/08
Sept 26/08
Sept 5/08
July 21/08
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
July 5/08
June 23/08
June 4/08
May 18/08
May 4/08
April 16/08
March 26/08
Head to Head
Feb 26/08
Feb 13/08
Jan 30/08
Jan 17/08
Notables of 2007
Dec 30/07
Dec 8/07
Nov 22/07
Oct 25/07
Oct 4/07
Sept 18/07
Aug 29/07
Aug 8/07
Summer Mysteries '07
July 20/07
June 28/07
June 8/07
May 21/07
May 2/07
April 14/07
March 23/07
Toronto Art Expo 2007
March 8/07
Feb 16/07
Feb 2/07
Jan 24/07
Notables of 2006
Dec 27/06
December 11/06
November 28/06
Nov 8/06
October 14/06
Sept 22/06
Ring Psycho (Wagner on CBC Radio)
Sept 6/06
August 12/06
July 18/06
June 27/06
June 9/06
May 23/06
Me In Manhattan
May 2/06
April 12/06
March 17/06
March 9/06
Feb 16/06
Feb 1/06
Jan 11/06
Dec 31/05
Dec 12/05
Nov 25/05
Nov 4/05
Oct 24/05
Sept 7/05
Sept 16/05
Sept 1/05
Aug 10/05
July 21/05
Me and the Jays
July 10/05
June 15/05
May 18/05
April 27/05
April 18/05
April 8/05
March 21/05
Feb 28/05
Feb 21/05
Feb 4/05
Jan 28/05
Jan 19/05
Jan 5/05
About Me
Dec 20/04
Dec 5/04
OTHER STUFF: Art Exhibitions, Concerts, etc.

The date that appears above is the date of the most recent reviews. As new reviews are added, the date will change accordingly. The new reviews will appear towards the top of the page and the older ones will move further down. When the page is closed, the items will be archived according to the final date on the page.

Reviewed here: Love and Mercy  (Movie)

Love and Mercy (Movie) written by Oren Moverman, Michael A. Lerner and Brian Wilson; directed by Bill Pohlad; starring Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Diana Maria Riva, Jake Abel, Joanna Going, Kenny Wormald, Brett Davern, Erin Darke, Bill Camp.

You know the formula:

A pop star (insert writer, artist, actor or whoever) rises from humble origins to fame, success and celebrity. Then begins the precipitous decline of said pop star (or whoever), thanks to drugs, sex and booze (or whatever). We’re left with the sad, final picture of the ruined life, the detritus of the glamour and glory.

Do we really need that story again?

No, we don’t. But this one is different, even though it has some elements of the oh-so-familiar theme.

For starters, we jump in at the height of the fame. The credits are barely over before the movie has dispensed with the cheesy popularity of the Beach Boys in the 1960s – the screaming fans, the bikini-clad backup girls, the media frenzy. Already, trouble is brewing. Brian Wilson (Paul Dano), the lead singer and composer of most of the group’s songs, is starting to have panic attacks. He’s also hearing voices in his head. Next thing you know, he’s wanting to skip the group’s tour of Japan so that he can work on some innovative musical ideas. When the group members return to home turf, they find that the music Brian’s turning out is too experimental, too out-there; it doesn’t fit into the Beach Boys’ brand. This becomes an on-going conflict within the band.

Along come the drugs. Brian discovers the mind-blowing effects of LSD. We’re left to assume the role played by partying, booze and sex, because, jumping forward about twenty years, we find Brian (now played by John Cusack) in one hell of a mess. He’s admitting now that he was never much of a husband or a father to his two daughters. He’s totally under the control of Dr. Eugene Landy, a psychotherapist, who claims that Brian is a paranoid schizophrenic. The doctor keeps him heavily medicated and monitors Brian’s daily life down to the minutest details. He even has bodyguards and spies trailing Brian wherever he goes.

Since this movie is based on the true story of Brian Wilson’s life, you may know how things turn out. However, for the sake of honouring our principle of not revealing any more plot than necessary here at Dilettante’s Diary, we’ll leave the narrative there. A quick check on the Internet will show you that this movie has greatly simplified Brian Wilson’s story. It was a heck of a lot more tumultuous and complicated than what you see here. But that’s ok. In terms of the general outlines and some of the most important turning points in Brian’s life, the movie’s true to the actual events. We know that, to make a work of art out of any person’s story, you have to impose a certain order or coherence that wasn’t there in the living of it.

Having heard a bit about the movie beforehand, I thought there might be a problem in having two actors playing the part of Brian. When a change of actors is required in order to represent widely separated eras of a character’s life, the switch usually takes some getting used to on the part of us viewers. Surprisingly, though, it presents no problem at all in this movie. That’s partly because the movie doesn’t proceed chronologically. From the beginning, we’re flipping back and forth between the 1960s and the 1980s; it’s not like we have a huge change to adapt to after having seen the one actor for a long time.

It helps, of course, that the two actors playing Brian – Paul Dano and John Cusack – look a bit alike; they’re by no means identical, but there’s just enough similarity in the structure of their features that it doesn’t seem like much of a shock when you switch from one to the other. After all, you find yourself thinking, everybody looks a bit different over the years, given changes in weight, hair styles and so on.

But the movie accomplishes feats far greater than the adroit handling of that problem about the two actors in one role. It’s one of those rare movies that takes you to places you’ve never been. (And I’m not talking only about visits to the recording studio where we get to witness Brian’s extraordinary techniques.) Many scenes make you think: I’ve never seen anything like this on screen. One scene had such surprising impact that it brought me to unexpected tears. At a barbeque, Brian was trying to entertain a new lady friend, but the doctor was refusing to let Brian eat the hamburger he wanted. It was excruciating to see this grown man cowering like a frightened child when the ogre in charge of him wouldn’t let him assuage his hunger.

Thank goodness that lady friend arrived on the scene to help balance things out. Elizabeth Banks plays Linda Ledbetter, a beautiful woman Brian met when he was buying a car. Her role in Brian’s life made me think of Shine, another movie based on a true-life situation where a kind, sensitive woman (Lynn Redgrave) came to the aid of a man afflicted with mental illness (David Helfgott). Ms Banks plays Melinda as one of those human beings who doesn’t make a big deal about being a good person, who’s relatively non-assertive about herself but has the guts to take a stand when she sees something wrong. Maybe that’s because she herself has been through some hard times.

At first, though, I found myself wondering why she liked Brian so much. To my eyes, there wasn’t anything very attractive about him. He looked pretty much like a pathetic, discombobulated wimp. Was it just that Melinda was fascinated by his stardom, tarnished though it was? She didn’t seem the kind of person to be inclined towards such superficiality. Eventually (after seeing the movie), I came to the conclusion that she was responding to Brian the way some people are touched by a frightened puppy. Underneath the quivering and fear, she saw something sweet and gentle and she wanted to give that a chance to flourish.

My only other problem with the movie – one that never was resolved.– was the role of the doctor. He comes across as a Machiavellian villain. Why was he treating Brian so harshly? What was the doctor getting out of it (apart from what were, presumably, substantial fees)? The fact that the role is played by Paul Giamatti, means that there are complexities and subtleties to a character who might otherwise have come off as a one-note tyrant, but we never really do understand the man. He is simply the bad guy. Given that the movie is based on real life, as experienced by Brian, I suppose it has to present things as they appeared to him. It would have made a better drama, though, if the villain could have spoken up for himself, presented his side of the argument. After all, what makes Paradise Lost so great is the fact that Milton makes Satan such an intriguing character.

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com