3 Stars — Challenging

The music of The Beach Boys is an iconic reminder of 1950s Americana, and their musical lyrics and style have become legendary. In many ways, these young musicians matched Hollywood’s ability to define the image of California —– blond, at the beach, laid back, the beautiful life of the post-war young.

Created and performed by the Wilson brothers of Hawthorne, Calif., these nonsurfing young men looked the part and captured the hearts of young women everywhere. At the center of this creativity was Brian Wilson, whose innovative genius shaped much of the music that we all know today. Unfortunately, Wilson had many demons that invaded his life, including drugs and alcohol, that exacerbated his mental instability.

Playing a young Wilson in Love & Mercy, Paul Dano gives a stellar performance that gives us a glimpse of what descending into paranoid schizophrenia looks like. In his older years, Wilson (played by John Cusack) is virtually held hostage by his psychiatrist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), who was eventually exposed for his defrauding of Wilson by overprescribing medications that made his condition worse and then taking control of his life and finances.

Leading the effort to expose Landy’s manipulative intent is a woman named Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who met Wilson when he attempted to buy a new car from her. Her eventual success in proving her point, along with the love she shared with Wilson, becomes the heart of the story and leads to eventual healing.

The Beach Boys phenomena paralleled the time period of Elvis Presley from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s before they were eclipsed by The Beatles and rock music. And yet, the songs created by Wilson are as recognizable today as they were then.

Certainly one of the greatest influences of their young lives was their father, Murry (Bill Camp), who had been their manager until the boys fired him. Like many “stage parents,” Murry was more interested in his sons living out his own dreams than he was in shepherding the lives of his family. Wilson craved the approval of his father but rarely got it, which certainly added to his descent into a life of drugs. To add insult to injury, Murry sold the rights to all of the Beach Boys songs to a major record company for $750,000 without their knowledge.

At the core of Love & Mercy is the fine line between creative genius and social, mental and spiritual instability. The music they created was genius, but without a strong, stable base from which to operate, the chances of withstanding the storms of life in the public arena were almost impossible. Any one factor, including a father who loved them, could have made such a difference in the road they had to travel. Without a mentor of spiritual and relational strength, these young men were on their own to find stability amongst their peers — all of whom were chasing fame, fortune, drugs and sex.

Love & Mercy is a morality tale of the side effects of seeking fame. The lure is that of a creative license to share your dreams, but the price is costly and highly deceptive. It is a reminder of how valuable it is to have a core group of healthy friends, family and a disciplined spiritual community. Such a support gives one a chance of survival in a world intent on sucking the life out of you. If you don’t have this stability in your life, then making a choice to seek such a community first will save your life, and then all these other things will be added unto you.


» The necessity of protecting the soul of a gifted person is historically obvious. Why do you think we do not do so? What do you think their loss is costing us as a nation and a world?

» A father or mother who uses his or her children for emotional or financial gain is despicable. But why do you think this is so often the case with child stars?

» It is difficult to imagine the music scene in America without The Beach Boys? Do you think in the modern era of social media they would have been exposed as not actually living the life they sang about? Is it necessary for an artist to live what they portray?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.