To borrow a quip from Manohla Dargis' review of "Boyhood," co-starring her un-favorite Ethan Hawke, Bill Pohlad's "Love & Mercy" seems to achieve the impossible: it makes Paul Dano bearable.
As the young Brian Wilson, at the crest of fame of his brother band The Beach Boys, Dano shows us a chipmunk-cheeked, indefatigably sunny composer and instrumentalist channeling the scars of his boyhood into a hoped-for advancement of American popular music. Don't get me wrong; part of you still wants to smack him.
Not so much, though, after watching where John Cusack takes Brian twenty years later, a sepulchral figure haunting a glass-windowed Malibu mansion where mirth and gaiety ought to reside. As with almost all great performances, the daring is in the quietude. Brian walks into a Cadillac dealership, sees the car he wants, asks the statuesque saleswoman (Elizabeth Banks, enormously appealing) to join him inside, locks the doors, and sits with her in an extended silence. (She - Melinda Ledbetter - would become his wife, and remains so today.) Brainwashed by a court-appointed psychiatrist (the ubiquitous Paul Giamatti) who preys on his mental fragility, Brian hears Melinda beg him to let her set him free, and can only shake his head wistfully.
"Love & Mercy" is very much an authorized biography. The shrink, Eugene Landy, is written as an ogre motivated primarily by cruelty. (Greed's undoubtedly in there somewhere, but we don't see him enjoying the fruits of his pilfered bounty.) That it lingers in the memory a week later is testament to Cusack, who in Cameron Crowe's "say anything…" held the promise of our generation (and one very large ghetto blaster) in his hands. (I can't be the only one who crushed on him.) After too many years wasted in the machinery of Hollywood, to watch him here draw a man from erasures, one can only ask, Where have you gone, Lloyd Dobler?