You don’t have to be a fan of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys to like the film Love & Mercy, but it may enhance an appreciation of the music.
After The Wife and I saw it at The Spectrum Theatre in Albany when we both had a Monday off, she asked to borrow Pet Sounds, for she had never heard the album, while I might put it on a Top Ten list. She was most struck by I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times [LISTEN], which, for her, seemed to encapsulate the message of the movie.
In the mid-1960s, as the creative soul of the Beach Boys, Brian was hearing sounds that he just had to get out, even if they weren’t the songs about cars and surfing, the themes most associated with the group.
As Brian quit touring, he got Hal Blaine and other professionals, known collectively as the Wrecking Crew, to help produce the intricate music. The band had fired Murry Wilson, the abusive father of Brian, Dennis, and Carl, but Brian went literally crazy still trying to please him.
In the 1980s, a quack named Dr. Eugene Landy (a brilliant and hirsute Paul Giamatti) controlled Brian with pills and an ever-present coterie of bodyguards. Brian meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) while trying to buy a car, then their relationship gets more complicated.
This movie works, and works well, even though perhaps it should not. Paul Dano as the younger Brian and John Cusack as the older version don’t especially look alike. Yet during the weaving back and forth between past and present, the narrative was clear, as clear as a story about a man who suffered a mental breakdown can be in painting a portrait of a brilliant, complicated man.
Country-music legend Glen Campbell was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. Glen and his wife Kim shared the news with the world.
The farewell tour, with his three youngest children in the band, was documented in the film Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me (2014), which I watched on CNN recently. It showed how the music, for a time, may have slowed down the ravages of the disease, for his guitar skills remained intact for much of the journey.
But as the three-week engagement turned into 151 shows, we see how nerve-wracking it was, especially for Kim, her kids, and the crew he’d worked with for years but could not always remember their names. It was quite telling that, early on, he mocked the disease, saying that he was happy to forget some things, notably his failed marriages.
When he got a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 2012, he could not remember why we were going. I wondered when Paul McCartney hugged him afterward whether Glen, best known for songs such as Rhinestone Cowboy, Wichita Lineman, and Gentle on My Mind, even knew who he was. He didn’t even always recognize films of himself.
The Campbell saga was broken up by other musicians, such as Kathy Mattea and Bruce Springsteen, talking about how they dealt with their family members dealing with the illness. The last major scene was Glen, who was briefly a Beach Boy, recording a song, Gonna Miss You [LISTEN], for his wife, backed by Hal Blaine and others from the aforementioned Wrecking Crew, of which Glen Campbell before he became famous, was once a member.
Despite the sadness of the disease, this was an emotional, intimate, and triumphant look at life fully lived. Here’s Mark Evanier’s take; since it’s probably not CNN anymore, catch it on video.