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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a personal portrait of someone special, like someone who is a picture of unselfish love.)


Some people are draining and take what they can
Till you’re not sure how your acquaintance began,
But some, if you’re lucky, replace what you’ve lost
And give and love further, not counting the cost.

She’s one of those people, those angels on earth,
Who don’t get the credit or gold that they’re worth.
Where others step back in repulsion or fear,
She’ll take two steps forward, concerned and sincere.

When I was convinced I was flawed to my core,
She gave me the hope that I still could be more.
When I came to learn happiness can’t be bought,
She showed me that lonely need not be my lot.

Such lessons are simple, but we the unwise,
With no one to teach us, are quick to trust lies.
If all were like her, by such love overrun,
The clouds of this world could be scattered to sun.

MPAA rating: PG-13

It’s become something of a cliché for musical biopics to portray the rise and fall of their subjects, often lessening our opinions of them in the process, but Love and Mercy is just as concerned about its star rising again as it is about the initial fall. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is played by two different actors, Paul Dano as Wilson in the mid-1960s and John Cusack as his older 1980s self. Instead of depicting the two time periods one after the other, they alternate in advancing their stories of a man whose talent and success weren’t enough to conquer his demons on his own.

Both actors and storylines have their strengths. Dano does an outstanding job at representing Wilson at his most creative, tired of his usual surf music and eager to experiment on his personal pet project, which becomes 1966’s Pet Sounds. Here we get a rare look at a musician’s creative process that goes beyond just thinking up lyrics; the laborious spontaneity of the recording studio and a personal piano brainstorm of “Good Vibrations” capture the spirit of Wilson’s musical genius, which was challenged by his family and sadly marred by drugs and a wrongly diagnosed mental disorder.

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Beyond the artistic insights of Dano’s parts, the film’s emotional core lies in the relationship between Cusack’s older Wilson and Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who meet while Wilson is under the controlling care of Dr. Eugene Landy (domineering Paul Giamatti). My VC had trouble understanding why Melinda would have any interest in Wilson, who is presented as acting strange and unstable from Landy’s overmedication. Yet that is what makes Banks and the real-life Melinda so admirable: she wasn’t a gold-digger or an opportunist like Landy. She had every reason and right to leave Wilson to his fate, but she instead became his way out and transformed his life for the better through her love and perseverance, laudably brought to life by Banks. She’s the kind of patient, positive influence that we wish for all troubled souls to find, even if they rarely do. Taking a line from Wilson himself, God only knows what he’d be without her.

Love and Mercy is marred somewhat by the psychedelic miasma of the drug scenes, which is compounded at times by the nonlinear storyline and both Brians’ odd behavior. It isn’t how I’d want all biopics to be told, but for something unique in an all-too-familiar genre, Love and Mercy harnesses the talents of its subject and its actors for an ultimately inspiring tale of professional and personal salvation.

Best line: (1980s Brian, to Melinda) “I want you to leave, but I don’t want you to leave me.”


Rank: List Runner-Up


© 2017 S.G. Liput
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