Bill Pohlad, right, directing Paul Dano in "Love & Mercy," in a scene showing Brian Wilson producing the Beach Boys' landmark "Pet Sounds" album." (photo by François Duhamel)
Minneapolis filmmaker Bill Pohlad and pop visionary Brian Wilson got a standing ovation Monday night at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Love & Mercy,” the Wilson biopic that put Pohlad back in the director’s chair for the first time in decades.
Early reviews suggest a smash.
The highly influential trade magazine Variety called it a "finely crafted split portrait" -- Paul Dano plays Wilson in his hitmaking prime, while John Cusack represents his older, embattled self -- that is "miles removed from the cookie-cutter approach taken by so many other rock bios."
"An unusual, moving portrait stuffed with the thrill of music-making," summed up the Hollywood Reporter, adding that Cusack (pictured at right with Elizabeth Banks) "gives one of the best performances of his career."
The Los Angeles Times report echoed a common thread in the reviews -- that while music biopics are typically tedious, "Love & Mercy" is a "refreshing surprise" that breaks the mold and invigorates the form. No doubt part of the credit belongs to screenwriter Oren Moverman, who also scripted "I'm Not There," the kaleidoscopic Bob Dylan portrait that featured six actors portraying different facets of the enigmatic singer/songwriter.
Pohlad told the L.A. writer that he dusted off an old screenplay about Wilson and enlisted Moverman for a rewrite. “If it was just telling young Brian’s story about the music, I don’t know that I would have done it,” he said. “But there were a lot of different levels besides that. On another level it’s about creative genius vs. madness. And it’s also a story of how [his future wife] pulled Brian Wilson out of a deep hole.”
After the disappointing reception of his feature debut, 1990's "Old Explorers," Pohlad kept close wraps on "Love & Mercy," showing it to virtually no one until its premiere Sunday, as he told the New York Times in a piece last weekend.
He also -- cannily, it appears now -- held off on striking a distribution deal for the film. Do we smell a bidding war?
As a side note, I want to mention that our own critic, Colin Covert, had planned to attend Monday's premiere. Regrettably, he suffered a bicycle accident last month but is now recovering at home and eagerly monitoring the news out of Toronto. I can't wait to read Colin's own take on this film.
There's no trailer for the film, so it seems fitting to give Wilson the last word: