John Cusack and Paul Dano have two of their best roles to date in “Love & Mercy”

Life of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys in LOVE & MERCY
One of my all time favorite actors happens to be John Cusack. Over the past decade or so, one of my newer favorites is Paul Dano. As such, the concept of the two of them in a film together pumped me up from the minute that they were cast in Love & Mercy. Then, I saw it and realized that they wouldn’t be sharing the screen, but instead would be combining to bring the Beach Boys frontman Brian Wilson to life. The film is really strong, using both Cusack and Dano to great effect in a soft of hybrid performance. It’s very unique, and now audiences will get to enjoy their work this weekend when the movie comes to theaters.

If you don’t know who Brian Wilson is, well…where have you been? He’s the frontman for the Beach Boys, and this is his story. We see him in the 1960’s as an emerging superstar before mental illness gets the best of him, as well as in the 1980’s when he’s a shell of his former self, under the manipulation of a shady therapist, and hopeful that the love of a woman can help set him back on a healthy path. Cusack and Dano both play Wilson at different points in his life, with the former as the older version and the latter as the younger. Paul Giamatti plays his shrink Dr. Eugene Landy, while Elizabeth Banks is Wilson’s eventual wife Melinda Ledbetter. Other members of the cast include Jake Abel, Bill Camp, Joanna Going, Dee Wallace, and Kenny Wormald. Bill Pohlad directs, while Oren Moverman (along with Michael A. Lerner) penned the script. Together, they all form something that deserves to be remembered come awards season. Yes, the performances especially are just that good.

Obviously, the big selling point here is seeing Cusack and Dano play Wilson, and it’s captivating to watch how it all comes together. Initially seeming like two very different characters, you soon see them as one and the same, making for not only two great performances, but one super-performance as well that’s just amazing. Dano has a showier part, but it’s Cusack’s quiet desperation that really breaks your heart at times. Both have equal screen time and both contribute fully to the success of the picture. Wilson would have been a juicy part for anyone to play, but this decision makes for an even fuller cinematic meal in the end.

The decision to split the part up is certainly worth praising as well. Moverman, Pohlad, and company opted to make this not just your garden variety biopic, which I definitely appreciated. A standard issue look at this Beach Boy would have worked just fine, but Wilson’s compelling story is elevated on the big screen by this unique take on his story. By the time you see him in real life, singing the song that gives the film its title, you come close to rolling a tear. That’s how effective it all is, led of course by the work Cusack and Dano are doing on the screen in Love & Mercy.

Awards wise, I think it’ll have an uphill battle, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not deserving. I think Best Picture, Best Director (for Pohlad), and either Best Adapted/Best Original Screenplay (for Lerner and Moverman, depending on how the script is categorized) are long shots, but it’s definitely possible that either Cusack or Dano could be in contention. Banks has an outside chance to stick around in Best Supporting Actress, but Giamatti would be overrun by one of the leads in Best Supporting Actor if someone was pushed there. Cusack and Dano both should be in Best Actor, but if one moves, it’s likely Cusack, hoping to play the veteran card in Supporting Actor. The film could easily be shut out, but I hope that it’s not what happens.

On Friday, audiences can start seeing what I saw in Love & Mercy when it begins its theatrical run. It’s a winning movie, filled with a number of very solid moments and a pair of outstanding performances. Anyone who’s a fan of either Cusack or Dano (or both, in my case) should make this an absolute must see. Time will tell whether it sticks around and turns into a true awards contender, but the quality is there, I can assure you of that much. Don’t sleep on this one folks, as it’s something kind of special and truly deserves to be seen…

Be sure to check out Love & Mercy this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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