Brian Wilson, one of the founding members and principle creatives of The Beach Boys, has led a fascinating but difficult life, as is the case with many musical geniuses. He lends himself so well to the traditional “tortured artist” film biopic that it’s a wonder this hasn’t been done before, but it’s also a relief to see many of the tired cliches of such movies and hackneyed storytelling devices quite deftly avoided, and the resulting film is as fresh, innovative and surprisingly upbeat as any of his best songs. Rather than the usual cradle-to-the-grave tale that this kind of film often tells, it focuses on two periods of his life – with Paul Dano portraying him as a young man in the 60s starting to show signs of instability, and John Cusack playing the middle-aged Wilson in the 80s. This keeps things focused and oddly more personal, looking in greater detail at specific periods rather than skimming over a person’s entire life in two hours.

It wouldn’t be right to make such a film and not pay appropriate attention to Wilson’s music, and thankfully a great deal of time is spent recreating his remarkable studio methods, and there’s also a pretty ingenious score by Atticus Ross which manages to be both original yet also highly evocative of that distinct Beach Boys sound. The concept of having two actors play Wilson doesn’t distract either, as it emphasises just how much he changed mentally and physically in the intervening years. The time periods are lensed differently too, with the 60s recording studio scenes shot in Super 16 and the 80s stuff given a colder, cleaner celluloid look. Ultimately though, the film’s real triumph is in capturing the generosity of spirit that makes Wilson such a sympathetic character, and its portrayal of mental illness is respectful and moving.

A long-overdue, informative and respectful account of one of pop music's most influential talents8
The decision to focus on two specific periods of his life, rather than all of it8
Paul Dano's portrayal of how the creative spark can often be married to mental illness9
The original score by Atticus Ross, which blends the familiar with the intriguingly new9
Perhaps a little too complimentary to its subject matter for its own good6
Bechdel Test Passes
  • Features more than one named female character
  • The female characters talk to each other
Bechdel Test Failures
  • They only talk about men
8Overall Score

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