Pop genius redeemed

Love and Mercy

Rated 4.0

This gently incisive biopic builds its portrait of Brian Wilson through a kind of triangulation: Paul Dano plays Wilson in the 1960s heyday of the Beach Boys; John Cusack plays the Wilson of the 1980s, cut off from the Beach Boys and dominated by the creepy Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti); and Elizabeth Banks plays Melinda Ledbetter, girlfriend, future wife and key enabler of Wilson’s recovery from the emotional wreckage of family life and pop music success.

Filmmaker Bill Pohlad builds his portrait via an alternating montage of episodes from the ’60s and ’80s. The central thread is a cumulative impression of the emotional and professional travails of a strangely inspired pop music genius, with some psychodrama and a little pop music history sketched in along the way.

Dano and Cusack are both excellent, with each bringing separate and distinctive qualities to the film’s necessarily composite portrait. The radiant intelligence of Banks’ performance is a saving grace for Wilson’s story and for the film as a whole. But the film’s richest moment of emotion might just come during the closing credits, which are accompanied by a clip of Wilson performing live during a 1980s concert.