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.”
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.”