This film is a biographical homage to the life of Brian Wilson, the tortured, creative genius of the Beach Boys. Before seeing this film, all I knew of Wilson was that he was a member of the Beach Boys and that he wrote some of their songs.
I wasn’t a huge fan of their style of work, basically falsetto harmonies by ‘clean cut’ America types, I was into Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Janis Joplin et al, yet I knew all the Beach Boys’ classic hits, as did just about everyone who lived through the 60s and 70s, they were marketed as the spirit of the ‘straight’ beach culture, yet they were not ‘surfies’, (they came from Hawthorne California) which was bizarre considering the subject matter of some of their biggest hits…besides their name…
Thanks to the creative combination of script, direction, sound track, visual effects and editing, this film sweeps one quickly away, through artistically rendered visual and auditory prompts, to those heady days of hope, freedom and the threat of mass destruction, to dwell upon one of the great song smiths of our times, and the real life he was struggling to live.
From the mug punter’s perspective, my own, what one heard of Wilson’s self destructive disconnect with the world, when he went to bed for two years or so, I felt had to have been a result of self inflicted misery, through the liberal imbibing of the usual cornucopia of intoxicants, that one expected of the rich and famous in those days.
However, there is a much deeper side to Wilson’s persona; destructively etched into by his father (a sociopathic bastard), strained by demands from his fellow band members (cousin and siblings) and the heavy burden of a psychiatric condition made Wilson’s life intolerable.
Added to this debilitating quagmire, was the introduction (via his ex-wife) of his personal psychiatrist Dr Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who became a ‘father substitution’, controlling everything in his life; what medication Wilson took, who he was allowed to see, what he could eat…everything was controlled by this megalomaniac shrink, with little of it to the benefit of Wilson himself, in fact the opposite was true.
The film, directed by Bill Pohlad (12 Years a Slave, Into the Wild and Brokeback Mountain) surprisingly has a light touch, is visually creative, same for the sound track and carefully edited so we stream through Wilson’s life, from the meeting his future wife Melinda Ledbetter, at the new car sales centre, to the Beach Boys’ earliest beginnings as a group.
I would not have thought of casting John Cusack (Being John Malkovich High Fidelity) as the mature Wilson, but he nails it with a finely nuanced portrayal of an emotionally battered genius, battling with daemons inside and outside his head. The young Wilson, (Little Miss Sunshine, Looper, Prisoners), was also an inspired choice.
The girl who saved Wilson from the maniacal shrink, Melinda Ledbetter, played by Elizabeth Banks (Hunger Games, The Lego Movie, Hunger Games Catching Fire) , was a new car saleswoman who, while showing Wilson a new car, is passed an anguished scribbled note, crying for help, then he invites her out for a date, along with the omnipresent body guards under control of his shrink. Melinda Ledbetter is pivotal in Wilson’s story and eventual rescue and salvation, Banks delivers Ledbetter with poise and the right amount of intensity. (They married and she handles Wilson’s business deals to this day!)
Lastly, the antagonist…
This was inspired casting, for Paul Giamatti (Straight Outta Compton, The Amazing Spiderman 2, Saving Mr. Banks, John Adams (tv series)) who plays Dr. Eugene Landy, takes over the screen from the moment he first appears, deftly weaving a complex character imbued with that seemingly benign exterior of concern, hiding within the monstrous and grasping malevolence sociopaths harbour. Giamatti is brilliant, as he always is!
Some reviewers came and found the experience wanting, I can tell you, I found it engrossing!
Do yourself a favour, hire, or better still, BUY THIS MOVIE!
It is one of those films you can go back and watch again every so often, and find something else anew.
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