Jul 062015

All kidding aside, what were John Cusack and director Bill Pohlad thinking by not having Cusack make the slightest effort to adopt any of the mannerisms and Look of mid-’80s Brian Wilson? I didn’t need Cusack to imitate Wilson and wear a bad straight-hair Ken doll wig, to match Brian’s God-gifted natural mane, but for the sake of artistic honesty, couldn’t he have picked up on at least a few of his tics: the zoned-out, non-blinking eyes; the talking out of the side of his mouth; the stuttering; the inspiring recurrence of that warm, open All-American smile

I didn’t want Cusack to tap into those physical tics for shits and giggles, but to tap into the guy’s fucking pain! Paul Dano, an actor who’s specialized in adolescent torment so well for as long as I have seen him onscreen (starting with Little Miss Sunshine) that he annoys me, did a FANTASTIC job of pulling Young Brian’s tics and awkward posture into his emotionally rich portrayal. Cusack, on the other hand, makes only the slightest nods toward bad posture. Otherwise, he’s all batting eyes, swooping head nods, and occasional fatalistic asides—all his beloved tricks that eventually charm the ladies and give the dudes hope from Say Anything, High Fidelity, and the rest of his extensive catalog of romantic comedies. It’s like he showed up on the set and said, “Listen, man, I love Brian and the music, but I’m here primarily to collect a check and to move the love story along. I’m not putting any extra effort into the Brian character. I know Dano’s going to do the heavy lifting, G-man’s going to act like an ass, and Elizabeth will be sweet at honey. Let me play off her so the audience can root for the two kids to get together at the end.”

Those eyes, that mouth...

Those eyes, that mouth…

I could get petty and cut him a new one for not bothering to wear a gaudy patterned shirt or put on weight (or show off his late-’80s buff body); Banks parades through the movie in the most garish ’80s gold-digger fashions, while Cusack ambles around in timeless discounted items from the Gap. There are other angles of criticism that I will investigate through the week regarding this movie, but my main beef was with the dishonesty and sloth of the film’s Healing of Brian segments. More than half of Love & Mercy could have been excised and made into the updated rom-com Say Anything 2. The film made no understanding, in the ’80s segments, to explore what made Wilson tick, what made this vivacious younger woman attracted to Brian (other than Cusack’s well-worn rom-con tics), what Brian’s so-called “friends and family” really made of him… (The Ledbetter character makes a couple of disembodied phone calls to Carl and their mom, but once freed from the clutches of Landy, didn’t Brian go right back to a string of dysfunctional experiences and lawsuits with his brothers and cousins?)

Along with the dishonesty and sloth of Cusack’s role in this movie, am I a cynical, horrible person for feeling that Ledbetter, the real-life version of whom was a consultant to the film, was portrayed as the next manipulative coattail rider in Brian’s life? I hope she’s a great person and really has contributed to more frequent bursts of Brian’s warm, All-American smile, but there was little in the film to give her character any substance.

As my close personal friend and moviegoing mate E. Pluribus Gergely leaned over and said to me, during one of our frequent in-theater conversations (it’s a wonder we didn’t get kicked out of the surprisingly two-thirds full theater), “This entire movie should have been an art-house character study featuring young Brian and Murray Wilson. Most of the rest of the cast could have been cut. Just them and the Wrecking Crew gang in the studio.”


  17 Responses to “Movie Review: Say Anything 2: The Healing of Brian Wilson

  1. I think you nailed it!

  2. saturnismine

    This was a fun read, Mod!

    In case it wasn’t obvious from my comments in the All-Star Jam, I thought most of the film felt contrived.

    And tell E Plurb that goes for the wrecking crew scenes as well.

  3. EPG better log on for this week’s festivities or I’m going to spend next week ripping on him.

  4. One minor criticism of Cusack I chose not to add in the piece but will mention in the Comments: he wouldn’t take the time to do anything with his hair or wardrobe or gestures to physically embody Brian Wilson, but he was fine with dying his hair and eyebrows jet black. I found his hair dye about as distracting as I find the dripping spirit gum in Oliver Stone’s period piece movies. Maybe he thought he was going to be playing the old Giants pitcher with the same name?

  5. I’m stunned the theater was two-thirds full. I saw the movie this last week and the theater (for the early evening showing) had 11 people in it (and my wife, son, and I were the youngest and God only knows why He had two older women in the row behind and a few seats over who’s hearing must be shot which would explain them loudly repeating dialogue to each other).

  6. I, too, wish that Cusack had turned in the kind of performance you wished for Mr. Mod.

    On the other hand, I guess it’s not a reasonable wish. This movie undoubtedly exists for three reasons. (1) Melinda wanted it, (2) she convinced Brian to want it, (3) some backers put up a small amount of money to make it. [If Cusack did it for a paycheck he must be heavily invested in Greek debt because I can’t imagine it was much of a paycheck.]

    Those three reasons probably all needed an unrealistic portrayal of ’80s Brian. I’m not sure if Melinda is/was the looker she is in this movie. Regardless, for the rom-com aspect of this to have any credibility certain liberties had to be taken. These liberties all would tend to get Melinda’s, Brian’s, and financial backers on board.

  7. saturnismine

    You can be damned sure the theater down here was NOT even close to full. We felt like they were keeping the movie in the theater just for us because we had called a few days in a row just to make sure it was going to be there on the day we planned to see it. Sure enough, it’s not running this week.

  8. saturnismine

    Hound him either way.

  9. Yes, EPG and I assumed we’d have the theater to ourselves, but that was not the case. We couldn’t even find an open area where we didn’t have to feel bad about whispering and laughing the whole way through. We had to accept feeling bad about our behavior as we sat about 4 rows from the front. We may have been the youngest people in the theater; it seemed everyone else was in their mid-60s.

  10. She’s a good-looking woman in real life, too (as Brian is a good-looking man). I have no issue with her looks in real life or the movie – and I love looking at Elizabeth Banks. I’m fine with the need to take some liberties, but for a movie that seemed to be driven from Melinda’s role in helping Brian, I found the story to be underwhelming in terms of its portrayal of her as anything remotely three-dimensional. The movie even stopped short of doing what’s normally done in these sorts of biopics: portraying her as a “strong” woman who “loves her man out” of his psychological predicament. I guess it’s nice that they tried to make it a straightforward, sweet love story between 2 well-adjusted people, but the fact that Brian wasn’t really well-adjusted in the story or historically made it a tough sell dramatically.

  11. Yeah, and you know what I recently found out – there is no such thing as a radioactive spider!

    I totally agree with you about what we would have wanted this movie to be. I was just noting that that movie probably couldn’t have been sold.

    Truth is stranger than fiction, clearly, if Melinda fell for/rescued the ’80s Brian who was under Landy’s sway. I think Brian as portrayed made for a more believable, i.e, Hollywood, movie than reality!

  12. ladymisskirroyale

    We had a decent number of people in the theater, about half full. And it’s playing on numerous screens around here. Regardless, despite the rows in front of us being empty in front and behind us, this woman came and sat one seat over from me. It totally ruined my ability to whisper comments throughout the movie.

  13. ladymisskirroyale

    I’m giving Cusack cred in one area: his take on being on “antipsychotic drugs” (oops, that diagnosis was updated and found not to be accurate by a team of clinicians at UCLA!!!) was pretty accurate. During the Hamburger Scene” he did a good job of the dry mouth/tongue thrust/zombie stare/hunger associated with those medications. However, this is faint praise given Cusack’s generally good acting chops.

  14. At the end of the movie there’s reference to Wilson’s inaccurate diagnosis and it having been corrected. Does anyone know what he was correctly diagnosed as having?

  15. To aid in this week’s coverage of Love & Mercy I recommend the following article – http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/06/10/love_mercy_fact_vs_fiction_how_the_new_brian_wilson_biopic_starring_john.html

    Two key points regarding our commentary so far. Check out the side-by-side pictures of Cusack and Brian in the 1980s. Cusack looks a lot more like him than we have been giving him credit for.

    And the answer to the correct diagnosis of Brian per Melinda is “schizoaffective disorder, which is a manic depressive with auditory hallucinations.”

  16. ladymisskirroyale

    Interesting photos.

    Re. the diagnostic issues, talk about splitting hairs! Schizoaffective disorder is also treated with antipsychotic drugs, but has a stronger mood component than plain ol’ schizophrenia. It also has a lousy long term prognosis, and is believed to be of questionable validity due to the difficulties differentiating it from schizophrenia and from bipolar disorder with psychotic features. Let’s just say I feel for the man and his family. That is a whole lotta heavy weight to be carrying around.

  17. saturnismine

    If you think those photos of Cusack and the 80s Brian make them look alike, then I want some of what you’re smoking.

    Also, the mid-60s pompadour Brian is the wrong guy to compare with Paul Dano’s mop-top look. Brian sported the mop during his Pet Sounds period.

    I expect better from Slate.

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