I watched the film Love and Mercy the other night, what I would casually call “the new Brian Wilson/Beach Boys bio pic,” however much it intentionally seeks to distance itself from the stereotypical biopic (from humble origins to fame to hubris to downfall, etc.) I have to say I was very enthralled, despite my trepidations, but admittedly I am the sort of person who rides around listening to a worn CD (nothing worse than skips and stutters upon angelic voices) of Pet Sounds while trying to avoid head-on collisions on the narrow roads of Wellington (just barely missed one the other day, and my neighbour too that would have been embarrassing!) The multiple conceits of the film are to be tasteful (almost overly so, but then haven’t Brian Wilson, family, and friends gone through enough pain exacerbated by muckraking and ridicule, prior to his belated embrace by hipster/retro culture?), period accurate, and have two stars playing different eras in the life of Brian: Paul Dano (who is already—and justifiably—racking up awards) and (rather unexpectedly) John Cusack. The winsome and trim Dano reportedly gained 35 pounds to play the increasingly portly and troubled musician during his alternately manic and inspired period of the late 1960s, while the film regularly flashes forward to Cusack as 1980s Brian, while under care of the psychotherapist Eugene Landy. The formidable Paul Giamatti, enlisted to portray Landy, one of the major charlatans of 20th C therapy, is unfortunately given little to do but leer, cajole, and scream. Elizabeth Banks ably and movingly plays Melinda, the car saleswoman who became Wilson’s devoted and sympathetic partner. Cusack, moreover, is such a fine, experienced actor that his Brian is reasonably affecting, but overshadowed by Dano’s uncanny act of utterly inhabiting Wilson, or at least one’s impression of who Wilson might have been. Scenes of the creation of Wilson’s music in the studio are arresting, as are Dano’s own singing and mannerisms “as Brian.” One is again taken aback even if the story is oft told by how cruel events were to Wilson, from childhood abuse by his father Murry, ethical misconduct by Landy, and a great deal of public misunderstanding of how difficult is is to create great art, especially under the pop cultural panoptic gaze. The credits incorporate recent footage of Wilson performing the song that lends its title to the film: I was lying in my room/And the news came on TV/A lotta people out there hurtin'/And it really scares me/Love and mercy, that's what you need tonight. One gets the distinct impression that Wilson is an example of an artist who did little to be intentionally unkind to others. Perhaps that’s the moral, however ordinary it might seem: working to be kinder in an often very unkind world. Art has something to do with that, but so do many other things as well.