A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Love & Mercy is an excellent biographical drama about the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, who's shown during two points in his life. The biggest issue here is heavy drug use -- ranging from pot to LSD; characters also smoke cigarettes and pipes and drink beer and hard liquor. Language includes a use of "f--k," as well as "s--t," "t-ts," and more. There are images of and verbal references to a violent, abusive father beating his son, as well as references to death by drowning and suicide. A man flirts with a woman and stares at her chest, and they eventually sleep together (nothing graphic shown). For music fans, this movie is something quite extraordinary, reaching far deeper than the usual biopic. It could also bring newcomers closer to Wilson's amazing music.
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What's the story?
In the mid-1960s, Brian Wilson (Paul Dano) becomes increasingly weary of touring with his successful rock band, The Beach Boys, and arranges to stay home and work on their next album. It becomes Pet Sounds, a masterpiece -- but not a best-seller. The experience, linked with a conflict with his father and various aural hallucinations, send Brian into a deep depression. Decades later, an older Brian (now played by John Cusack) is under the care of the controlling, tempestuous Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Brian meets auto saleswoman Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) and falls in love, but Dr. Landy disapproves and keeps his patient pumped full of drugs. Melinda decides that she loves Brian enough to fight for him.
Is it any good?
Just as The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds is one of the greatest rock 'n' roll albums of all time, this movie deserves consideration among the greatest rock 'n' roll movies of all time. Director Bill Pohlad, who also produced the more traditional rock biopic The Runaways, avoids biopic cliches by creating a movie based on moments and sensations. The incredible musical score by Atticus Ross features an appropriately mixed-up tapestry of snippets of Wilson's music, and bizarre soundscapes replicate what it might have been like to be inside Wilson's head during his aural hallucinations.
In Dano's sequences, LOVE & MERCY shows the exhilarating act of creation, of making music. And in the more complex Cusack sequences, creation becomes more fleeting, with Wilson himself becoming a creative project. Dano is a dead ringer for Wilson, while Cusack captures Wilson's inner essence. Likewise, Banks gives a very strong performance, while Giamatti gives a very wicked one. Oren Moverman (I'm Not There) co-wrote the screenplay.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the drug use in Love & Mercy. What are the drawbacks of Brian Wilson's drug use? Does the movie suggest there are also benefits? What message does that send?
What makes Wilson a great musician, and what's special about the music he makes in this movie?
How did you feel about the same character being played by two actors? Did it make emotional sense? How is it similar to/different from other biopics you've seen?
- In theaters: June 5, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: September 15, 2015
- Cast: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks
- Director: Bill Pohlad
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 120 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, drug content and language
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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