Interesting rather than inspired, this biopic*** of Beach Boy Brian Wilson toggles between his struggles as young man in the 1960s (played, superbly, by Paul Dano) trying to make the “pocket symphony to God” that is Pet Sounds and his mentally-stricken days in the 1980s (played, way too mannered, by John Cusack) under the tyrannical spell of his doctor Eugene Landy.
The 60s stuff is fab and cool, director Bill Pohlad recreating the California sunshine, swimming pools, shorts and parties, as well as the eccentricities of Wilson’s recording sessions with the musicians from The Wrecking Crew.
These are funny, creative and fascinating moments, not without the typical bio-pic eureka moments when someone invents a hook that becomes an all-time classic such as God Only Knows, or someone says a portentous line about dogs picking up our vibrations and we cut to them all recording Good Vibrations in the studio.
Dano is wonderful here, capturing the haircut perfectly as well as the dizzying creativity and confusion of Wilson’s harmonic intensity and pop originality. “Phil Spector’s got nothing on you, kid” says drummer Hal Blaine.
The film intercuts the early years of exhausting invention (and battles with his brothers as well as their mean old Dad) with the sadness of the 80s, when the shuffling Wilson takes a shine to Elizabeth Bank’s pretty Cadillac saleswoman but is controlled at his Malibu beach house by Paul Giammati’s wonderfully creepy, culty charlatan doctor Gene.
Problem is, I didn’t warm to Cusack’s Rain Man-like performance – his eyes are too bright to play the dulled Wilson of this period – and, though Banks and Giammati are excellent, the film drags and becomes oppressive – basically, the pacing flags whenever we’re not in the studio with those sleigh-bells, timpani and dog choruses.