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"Love & Mercy" mines dark territory for Beach Boys' Brian Wilson
The first time Brian Wilson watched "Love & Mercy," the new film based on his turbulent life and triumphant music career, he chose to be alone.
The famously damaged and singularly talented Beach Boys mastermind and solo artist viewed it just one other time, with director Bill Pohlad at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. And Wilson says he's satisfied enough that he probably doesn't need to see it again.
"It brought back a lot of memories of when I took drugs and things, so it was hard" to watch," Wilson says now. "I thought it was cast really good and it was really factual and a really great experience to watch."
And that, of course, is music to Pohlad's ears.
"He really kind did kind of allow us to go out and make the movie as we saw fit," says Pohlad, the son former Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad and an Academy Award-nominated producer ("The Tree of Life," "Brokeback Mountain," "12 Years a Slave," "Wild") who returns to directing with "Love & Mercy" 24 years after his debut with "Old Explorers."
"Certainly Brian was available and we used him to get a better understanding of everything that happened and make sure we were on the right track. But he was fantastic and so was Melinda (Wilson's wife). They were very cool about it and there when we needed them, but not too obsessive about it."
"Love & Mercy" tells Wilson's story as a parallel narrative, with Paul Dano as a young Wilson descending into mental illness and drug addiction even as he was creating pop masterworks such as "Good Vibrations" and the "Pet Sounds" album and John Cusack as an older Wilson under the care of controversial therapist Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti) when he first meets Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) while shopping at the Cadillac dealership where she works. The film project had actually been around for a few years as "Heroes and Villains," taking its title from the Beach Boys' hit, but Pohlad -- who calls himself more of a Beatles than a Beach Boys fan -- initially wasn't interested when he was approached.
"I read it and I really didn't like it at all," the director recalls. "I thought it was more of a traditional biopic kind of thing, a little melodramatic. It didn't seem like something I was interested in." The Wilsons subsequently reapproached Pohlad, who initially signed on to produce rather than direct and brought in Oren Moverman, who penned the existential Bob Dylan film "I'm Not There," to overhaul the script.
"When I met Melinda for the first time she told me about how she and Brian originally met," Pohlad recalls. "I was intrigued by that story, the idea that she would meet a kind of quirky, almost homeless-appearing guy but somehow was charmed by him, and later she found out that was Brian Wilson. And as she gets to know him more she learns what's going on with him and what's happened.
"To me that was very intriguing. I saw that as a way into the story, as well as the 'Pet Sounds' era, which was another seminal part of his life. So I thought about just kind of intertwining those two." Moverman, meanwhile, was the one who suggested to Pohlad that he direct "Love & Mercy" himself.
"He was kind of a candidate for directing it, as were a couple of other people on the list," Pohlad says. "At one point in the process he turned to me and said, 'You should really direct this. You've got a clear vision of what you want.' It didn't take too much convincing."
Pohlad and his crew worked hard to get details right, from the characters' personalities to specific events, costumes and the look of the recording studios Wilson worried in during the mid-60s. "Often we'd be shooting in a studio and, weirdly enough, Brian just happened to be working in the studio next door, so he'd walk over and see what we were up to," Pohlad recalls. Academy Award-winning composer Atticus Ross, meanwhile, helped to create a score of sonic pastiches that, literally, got into Wilson's head.
"One of the things that obviously attracted me to the whole story, besides Brian's music itself, was what Brian suffers from and trying to explore that a little more," Pohlad explains. "I remember Melinda telling me he hears these arrangements and these orchestrations and harmonies and things in his mind that are super-complicated, and nobody else can understand them until he kind of executes them, plays them out.
"That's part of his genius. The problem is he can't turn them off, so he's always hearing things. He suffers from auditory hallucinations, so I was excited to try to figure out a way to represent that...and Atticus got that immediately and had the idea of taking strands of (Wilson's) music and kind of rearranging them and mixing them in different ways than we've heard before and use that as a score."
Difficult and troubling as it sometimes is, "Love & Mercy" has been getting rave reviews since Toronto -- even a perfect score from the BBC. "One Kind of Love," which Wilson wrote for the film and is featured on his latest album, "No Pier Pressure," also received Best Original Song honors at the 2015 Nashville Film Festival.
"Often times you're waiting for the other shoe to drop, 'cause you can't believe it's been so well received," Pohlad says with a laugh. "For me it's a big step; you're kind of sitting there with the film in the edit room or wherever and nobody's seen it and you're thinking, 'This is gonna be terrible. People are gonna think it's a home movie' or something. So getting out and finally having people see it, it's really gratifying that they're not only seeing the movie but seem to like it.
"And I could tell (Wilson) really liked it, which makes me happy, too."
"Love & Mercy" opens Friday, June 5, at metro area movie theaters.
Brian Wilson performs at 8 p.m. July 5 at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Rodriguez opens. Tickets are $39.50-$100. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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