The film’s title alludes to the opening track of Wilson’s 1988 debut solo album. The film delivers both in spades. Mercy is certainly shown to Wilson in the film, which skips the darkest period of his life, a fifteen-year-stretch between 1968 and the transformation that came after Melinda Ledbetter (his wife-to-be) met him. During those lost years, he was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, battling auditory hallucinations, spending much of his time in bed, using drugs, and grossly overeating (his weight soared to more than 300 pounds).
Melinda (played by Elizabeth Banks) is really the central character in the ’80s narrative, and her perseverance and genuine concern for Brian’s well-being ultimately get him out of his abusive relationship with Dr. Landy. Love & Mercy celebrates the gift of Wilson’s music by focusing on his most fertile creative period and the light shining through after almost two decades of darkness. What makes the Wilson story so wonderful is its genuinely redemptive arc. With Melinda he has enjoyed a newfound stability (they’ve been happily married for 20 years) and a return to the music spotlight with 2004’s Grammy-winning Brian Wilson Presents Smile and later with the long-awaited release of the masters for Smile in 2011.
While love and mercy may have both landed in the title, justice is also central to the film. In the scene that generates the largest applause, Dr. [Eugene] Landy is served papers for the lawsuit that ultimately cost him his license to practice psychiatry. That may suggest why Love & Mercy is so compelling. It avoids the formulaic quality of so many recent biopics, but it’s not ashamed to tug at our heartstrings. And above all, it captures the joy of creation.