Beach Boys Brian Wilson
In many ways, director Bill Pohlad’s Brian Wilson biopic is a much riskier proposition than the usual showbiz biography. Although it features much of the feel-good Southern California sounds of the Beach Boys, the movie itself is a very dark, rather harrowing look into mental illness — at least as far as it affected Wilson, who was misdiagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic by Eugene Landy, the shady and conniving therapist who took control of his life for several years, sending him even deeper into the abyss of his psychosis.
And Pohlad’s decision to cast two actors, Paul Dano and John Cusack, in the title role was daring. After all, actors usually play it all these days. Think Robert De Niro in Raging Bull or Jamie Foxx in Ray. This film zigzags back and forth between the two actors playing Wilson at different points in his life, so you have to suspend disbelief that Dano and Cusack don’t really look like they could be the same person. But that aside, it is their remarkable acting achievement that you still believe both are Wilson. When I first saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, I did have a hard time with the concept, but after seeing it again yesterday at my home beachtown theater just a few miles away from where Wilson grew up with his brothers, cousin and friend who made up the Beach Boys, I see it really does work.
Playing the younger Wilson, Dano is just superb as the budding musical genius whose father put him down but whose raw musical talent was undeniable. Those scenes with the father (Bill Camp), who managed the group until they fired him, are hard to watch, as is much of the film. It’s raw and real and doesn’t sugarcoat Wilson’s illness. The musician and his second wife (played by the terrific Elizabeth Banks) were consultants on the film and have said that Pohlad and his screenwriters Oren Moverman and Michael A. Lerner have gotten it right. In doing so they also have created a different kind of biopic.
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