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"I'm Brian Wilson. From the Beach Boys?"
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Love & Mercy is a 2014 Biopic focusing on the life of Brian Wilson, directed by Bill Pohlad and starring Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Giamatti.

In the mid-1960s, Brian Wilson (Dano) is riding high. As the talented Lead Bassist of The Beach Boys, he enjoys both wealth and success. However, a panic attack on an airplane along with the release of Rubber Soul prompts him to stay in California crafting a more experimental, personal album with no filler, Pet Sounds. However, while crafting the follow-up Smile, Wilson’s mental health takes a downward turn as drugs and stress drive him past the brink of sanity…

Wait, that description isn’t entirely truthful.

In the mid-1980s, Brian Wilson (Cusack) is an Empty Shell controlled by his abusive doctor/legal guardian/svengali Dr. Eugene Landy (Giamatti). Separated from his friends and family, he seems adrift under the watchful eye of Landy until he meets Melinda Ledbetter (Banks), a Cadillac saleswoman who falls in love with Wilson and works to get Landy out of his life.

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Confused? Well to put it more succinctly, Love & Mercy jumps back and forth between these two plots in order to tell the story of Brian Wilson's life and music and how they're affected today.


Love & Mercy provides examples of:

  • The '60s: For the first half.
  • The '80s: For the second half.
  • Abusive Parents: Murry Wilson, just like in real life. He beat the Wilson brothers, is disappointed when he hears "God Only Knows" for the first time, seems more interested in a new band he manages, and dispassionately reveals that he sold the back catalog for $750,000, pushing Brian into his Heroic BSoD.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Graham Rogers, who stands 6-feet-tall, plays the 5-foot-4 Al Jardine. And in what appears to be a running theme in Beach Boys/Brian Wilson biopics, Carl Wilson, who was notably chubby as a younger man, is played by someone of average build (in this case, Brett Davern).
  • Adult Fear: Brian's gradual Sanity Slippage during the 60s. Everyone around him realizes that it's happening, and even Brian himself realizes that he's losing his mind, helpless to stop it. This hits close to home for anyone who ever had to deal with a loved one slowly go insane.
    Carl Wilson: "I'm worried about you, brother."
    Brian–Past: "I think I might be losing it..."
    Dennis Wilson: "I don't blame you. There's a lot to lose out there."
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    • Then in the 80s, Brian being left in the care of a crazy, controlling Psycho Psychologist who leaches off his finances and fame, isolates him from his family and drugs him heavily, all while his family is none the wiser (and even thinks that he's helping Brian) until Melinda intervenes.
  • Anachronic Order: As stated above, the film cuts back and forth between the two stories. However, it’s pretty easy to follow.
  • Badass Crew: The Wrecking Crew, the real life session musicians Brian hired in order to help make Pet Sounds and Smile.
  • Beard of Evil: Mike Love.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Deconstructed with Brian. While he may be a musical genius, his unconventional, perfectionist attitudes combined with drug abuse and a worsening mental state lead to his decades-long Heroic BSoD.
  • Commander Contrarian: Mike Love. When the rest of the band returns from Japan and hears Pet Sounds for the first time, they all somewhat approve of it. Mike is less impressed and wants the music to be Strictly Formula.
  • Creator Breakdown: In-Universe, after his panic attack, Brian–Past slowly starts to succumb to his schizophrenia over the production of Pet Sounds and Smile.
  • Determinator: Melinda tries her hardest to find some way to get Landy out of Brian–Future's life and succeeds.
  • Distinction Without a Difference:
    Brian–Future: "People always say I spent two years in bed. They were wrong. I spent three years in bed."
  • The Dragon: An interesting example. Landy's assistants seem more concerned regarding Brian than Landy does.
  • Doctor Jerk: Landy.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Brian–Future ends up free from Landy's control, marries Melinda and finally finishes Smile.
  • Empty Shell: Brian–Future is an over-medicated mess of a man who has everything out of his control.
  • Eureka Moment: After Brian–Past plays the melody for "Good Vibrations" for hours on end, he has a conversation with Mike and mentions something about animals being able to pick up vibes from people.
  • Faux Documentary: The studio scenes when Pet Sounds is being recorded are meant to invoke this.
  • Florence Nightingale Effect: Melinda falls in love with Brian–Future partly because he's a desperate man yearning for freedom.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone who is familiar with the Beach Boys' history will already know that Melinda helped Brian–Future break free from Landy's control in 1992 and married him three years later.
  • Hearing Voices: Brian.
  • Heroic BSoD: The 1980s plotline shows him slowly getting out of it. The 1960s plotline shows How We Got Here.
  • I Just Write the Thing: Brian–Past states how his music is a manifestation of what he hears in his head.
  • In Name Only: Mike is peeved that Pet Sounds really only has The Beach Boys' voices on them instead of playing their instruments.
  • Jerkass:
  • Kindly Housekeeper: Brian–Future's housekeeper Gloria who plays a key part in helping Melinda free him from Dr. Landy.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: While Melinda has a more down-to-earth personality than most examples of this trope, she still gets Brian–Future free from Landy's control.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Dr. Landy.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Brian–Future and Melinda have a lengthy scene together while covered in bedsheets.
  • Mushroom Samba: While we don't see much of it, Brian's description of his first time trying LSD is very trippy.
  • The Perfectionist: Brian's attitudes lead to him alienating the rest of The Beach Boys.
  • Psycho Psychologist: Dr. Landy abuses his poor patient horribly.
  • Rule of Pool:
    • Brian–Past hops in a pool fully clothed during a celebration at a party. During a meeting with the band, he also dives in fully clothed.
    • Brian–Future and Melinda jump off a boat and swim to shore fully clothed.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: When The Beach Boys and Van Dyke Parks host a poolside meeting to discuss Brian–Past's behavior, the latter mentions how he's been writing music since he was 14, then promptly leaves
  • Shown Their Work: The movie makes an effort to show photos, videos and studio methods as accurately as possible.
  • Strictly Formula: Mike Love's approach to songwriting imposed on Brian.
  • The Svengali: Landy. He's shown to clearly mooch off Brian–Future's wealth and tries to get him to obey his every command.
  • Supporting Protagonist: While Brian is consistently the focus, the 1980s sections are mostly told from Melinda Ledbetter's perspective.
  • Third Wheel: Dr. Landy and his son either chaperone or outright spy on Brian–Future's time with Melinda.
  • Toplessness from the Back: We briefly see Melinda from the back before she covers up with a Modesty Bedsheet.
  • Trippy Finale Syndrome: When Melinda works to get Landy removed, a psychedelic montage occurs involving 80s Brian (known as "Brian–Future"), 60s Brian (known as "Brian–Past) and Brian as a young child.

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