The second film in two nights in a row that I decided to catch in the theater, was one that I knew little to next to nothing about other than that it was supposedly an autobiographical account of the life, work, and career of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson. Anybody who read my recent “The Gift” review, may have caught that the reason why I decided on seeing that film on the night that I did, was because another film was sold out. Well, that just happened to be this film. And not only was it sold out, there was a line around the block about 30 minutes or so before to see it when my friend and I arrived. Sometimes, as was the case with this one, certain films fall under my radar. And every so often, I’ll happen to be made aware of them simply because I see so many movies. And going along with that, I’m constantly aware of what other people are seeing. Now I don’t mean this in the commercial sense, as all I would have to do is look at weekend box office reports come Monday morning to see what the majority of people are seeing. What I mean is, especially when it comes to films that open in second run theaters such as this one did, I keep my eye out specifically for more indie-oriented films that stay running for multiple weeks. For the most part, what this means mainly is that they are doing exceptionally well with audiences. So, after being turned away from this film this past Saturday night, which admittedly very rarely happens, I made it a point to catch it at my first opportunity on an off night during the week.
The story itself is somewhat of a parallel one. In that it focuses on its main character, the legendary Beach Boys musician Brian Wilson, but depicts his life in two separate eras. The 1960’s era twenty-something Wilson (played by Paul Dano, who was just recently reminded of his talent as an actor having just seen “There Will Be Blood” (2007) ) and the middle-aged late fourty-something Wilson (played by John Cusack). The film opens in the latter of the two eras, with Cusack’s Wilson sitting in a Cadillac at a car dealership, where he meets his middle life love interest played by Elizabeth Banks. It becomes apparent straight from the get go that there’s something just slightly off about the older Wilson. But even so, Banks’ character takes a liking to him, mostly because of his celebrity (at first anyway). This is much to the chagrin of the older Wilson’s doctor/”caretaker” (played by Paul Giamatti). You see Giamatti’s got his hand and control in literally everything that the older Wilson does – to his inevitable purchase of the car, to the medications he takes, to where he goes and what he does, who he dates, even down to what he eats. As Cusack’s older Wilson is obviously haunted by some sort of mental illness that we’re unsure of. Then we flashback to the earlier days of Dano’s version of Wilson. A co-member of the one of the most successful bands in America at the time, the Beach Boys, and we get to see Wilson in his heyday – the multi-talented singer, songwriter, and composer, who it becomes clear is the brains and genius behind the group. We are given several glimpses into the creative processes in which Wilson penned some of the most better known, popular songs in the Beach Boys catalog. Though along with this process of his rise of becoming one of the most talented, better known musicians of his time, he is faced with adversity all around, most notably by his disapproving father – one of those “nothing is ever good enough” guys, his difficulties with the other members of the group, as well as the psychosis that seems to be developing as he gets more famous and more detached to what some may consider to be reality. The rest of the film then jumps both forward and back in time, with the two subplots involving the older Cusack’s Wilson’s love affair with Banks’ character, along with Dano’s Wilson’s mental dismantling as he tries to maintain his sanity and continue on with the group he made famous.
This wound up being a brilliant film that really dived into and gave you unprecedented access into the mind of one of the industry’s most talented artists in music history. Let me start with the performances – both Paul Dano and John Cusack are astounding in their respective roles as the early and middle-aged Wilson. And in my opinion, are so good and so convincing that they both deserve some awards attention come the end of the year. It’s Dano’s best performance since 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” and Cusack’s best role since 2000’s “High Fidelity”. Paul Giamatti is almost equally as good, although in a much smaller supporting role. He’s a detestable, lecherous character much like Wilson’s father, both whose main agendas seem to be to manipulate the “supposed” mental illness of Wilson (the film makes the argument that his illness was perpetuated by external circumstances) with the sole purpose of profiteering off of genius. Then come the technical components of the film – from the brilliant costume design and “look” from frequent Wes Anderson DP (director of photography) Robert Yeomen that captures the pastiche look of the 1960’s with the utmost authenticity. The script by Oren Moverman (the Oscar nominated “The Messenger” (2009)) is also top-notch and always seems to be trying to stay as true and genuine as possible to the real Wilson story. Then there’s the original music by Oscar-winning composer Atticus Ross (“The Social Network” (2010)) which plays as somewhat of an “underscore”, though undoubtedly well done, for the best scenes of the film. In which we’re given a fly on the wall access to the in-the-moment live creative process that would ultimately produce some of the Beach Boys greatest hits (which should please fans of both film and music aficionado’s alike) and had me sitting back with a big smile on my face as I tapped my feet to these songs that are forever etched in our memories. The film’s pacing goes along at a breathtaking speed, as the story engages and totally immerses the viewer into the world of Wilson and his many trials and tribulations he faces along his own life’s way. It’s a great testament to one of the most talented, yet mentally damaged artists in music history, that left both me and the rest of the audience glued to our seats, as the ending credits rolled and we are given the linear notes into Wilson’s rebirth, now in late adulthood, following the success of his most successful work as a solo artist – 2004’s “Smile” complete with a live performance of “Love & Mercy” sung by the real Wilson himself. And not one person stood up until the song was over even though the credits continued to roll. This is among the better of the films I’ve seen this year, and while although it’s not perfect, it’s sure to be universally likable and is done with the utmost sincerity and respect for the artist in which it depicts. A top 10 contender and one that should easily place a spot on my Honorable Mentions list come the end of this year, catch this film if you can, as I can assure you you won’t be disappointed.