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Friday, October 16, 2015

California Girls

While developing my continuing ed class on the intersection of movies and music, I had to think hard about which films to include. In the end, I ended up using no movies for that course from the genre that film critics call "biopics". Well known examples of this genre would be "Bird" or "Ray" or "Walk The Line", three movies that respectively depicted the lives of Charlie Parker, Ray Charles, and Johnny Cash. Many biopics have good moments but for me, just as many fall flat. Often they are overly dramatic or unimaginative.  

"Love and Mercy" - the recent biopic about Brian Wilson - is not without its faults. In particular, a few of the scenes that depicted his second wife rescuing him from his unscrupulous therapist struck me as over the top. This was not the fault of Elizabeth Banks, the actress playing Wilson's wife, or Paul Giamatti, who portrayed the venal Eugene Landy to menacing perfection. In my view, the script or the direction - or a combination of the two - let down both these talented actors.

But this biopic would have been included in my course had I seen it before beginning my development:
* The imaginative, seamless way Brian Wilson is played by two gifted actors - Paul Dano as the young genius losing his grip and John Cusack as an older Wilson under the thumb of Landy - is thrilling.
* The Wrecking Crew - a remarkable group of 60's studio musicians who played on many Beach Boys recordings - gets their due. One of my favorite scenes involves drummer Hal Blaine reassuring an insecure Wilson about tracks that would ultimately become the masterpiece called "Pet Sounds".
* Brian Wilson's glorious music is front and center. I wept when Dano crooned "Caroline, No".

You need not be a Beach Boys fan to enjoy this movie. If you've seen it, tell me if you agree. If you haven't, I recommend you do. Then tell me what you think. And everyone - tell me which biopic about a musician has moved you. My next delivery of that course is still a few months away.            

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