Director Bill Pohlad goes inside Brian Wilson's head in ‘Love & Mercy' 

Bill Pohlad's "Love & Mercy" tells the story of a most complex and fascinating musician: Brian Wilson.

For this genius, no ordinary biopic would do.

During a visit to The City for the S.F. International Film Festival, Pohlad, who produced the 2010 rock biopic "The Runaways," called the movie a portrait. “It's supposed to be more impressionistic. I wanted to get in there and depict what it's like in Brian's head," he says.

Wilson is portrayed in two time periods. Paul Dano plays him during the mid-1960s, at the height of stardom with his band The Beach Boys, and working on “Pet Sounds,” the album that became his masterpiece.

John Cusack plays Wilson two decades later, meeting the love of his life, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) while under the care of controlling, tempestuous Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti).

Pohlad says casting Dano was a “no-brainer.” He adds, “He was the first one on my list, and I didn't know he could sing."

The idea to use Cusack came when Pohlad re-watched the 1995 documentary on Wilson, "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times."

"There's this shot of Brian with a leather jacket and it's black and white, and it looks like John," says Pohlad.

To get into character, Cusack continually played Wilson's "Smile" recording sessions on set and spent time with Wilson.

Conversely, Dano was not allowed to meet Wilson. "There's so much going on with Brian now, I didn't want Paul to get off on a tangent, picking up something from that," Pohlad says. Another of the movie's great achievements is the music and sound design by Atticus Ross, whose score is a tapestry of bits and pieces of Wilson's recordings.

Then there were Wilson's hallucinations. "Brian suffers from a form of schizophrenia, and he has hallucinations, but they're not visual," says Pohlad. His so-called "mind trips" were partly inspired by the Beatles song "Revolution No. 9."

Pohlad admits he grew up as a Beatles fan, and became a Beach Boys fan more recently. He says he only discovered "Pet Sounds" about 15 years ago.

"I love music for the same reason that I love movies," he says. "There are times it can really impact your life, and when it comes back to you later, you remember that period or that time of your life."

But Pohlad doesn’t describe himself as musician, even though he says, “A lot of filmmakers are frustrated musicians and musicians are frustrated filmmakers."


Love & Mercy

Starring: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti

Written by: Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner

Directed by: Bill Pohlad

Rated PG-13

Running time: 2 hours

About The Author

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jeffrey M. Anderson has written about movies for the San Francisco Examiner since 2000, in addition to many other publications and websites. He holds a master's degree in cinema, and has appeared as an expert on film festival panels, television, and radio. He is a founding member of the San Francisco Film Critics... more
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