Friday, January 29, 2016

Overlooked by Oscars: Paul Dano

LOVE & MERCY.  That music biopic was one of the best movies I saw last summer.  Critics hailed this biopic about Brian Wilson, the top creative force and member of The Beach Boys.  Wilson is an artist whose youth was nowhere near as carefree as the many hit pop songs The Beach Boys sang in the 1960s.  The brilliant singer/songwriter and musician suffered breakdowns.  He's played by two actors in Love & Mercy.  The psychologically abused Brian Wilson of the 1980s is played by John Cusack.  The young 1960s pop star Brian Wilson is played by Paul Dano.  What a terrific performance Dano gives in Love & Mercy.  Christian Bale, winner of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 2010's The Fighter, is currently an Oscar nominee in that category again.  Bale aces the eccentric hedge fund manager role in The Big Short, a financial whiz who seems to have Asperger Syndrome.  However, I would've given a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination to Paul Dano for Love & Mercy.
 The Beach Boys topped the music charts in the 1960s just like The Beatles did.  The Beach Boys, thanks to Brian Wilson, created what became a Southern California sound in their music.  It crystallized the image of Pacific Coast life in those days.  Their look, their sound, their record sales...The Beach Boys definitely knew stardom.
Dano's Wilson does seem like he gets telepathic messages from other planets.  His behavior can be odd.  But we also see the process of his creativity.  The Beach Boys didn't grow up in a nurturing household.  Their dad was somewhat of a tyrant.  There's no way that kind of environment will not color a child's emotional growth.  Dano shows us the heartbreak of young Wilson.  As I wrote in my review last June, "...with his moon-face, there's always a look of darkness approaching in Dano's eyes as he plays young Brian, a pop star singing of the joys teens can have in the Southern California surf and sun."  Here's a trailer for Love & Mercy.  
 Paul Dano is a first-rate young actor.  Love & Mercy shows him in peak form.  This is another solid performance from Dano that takes a place on the top shelf with his work in Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood and 12 Years A Slave -- three films that got Oscar nominations for Best Picture.  Paul Dano, John Cusack, Paul Giamatti and Elizabeth Banks are all excellent in Love & Mercy.  

Paul Giamatti, by the way, slammed across two exceptional supporting role performances last year.  He's the clever and co-dependent manager of the N.W.A. rap group in Straight Outta Compton.  He's the outsider helping other outsiders become major stars in the hip-hop music business of the 1980s.  In Love & Mercy, he's a detrimental force in the life of the middle-aged Brian Wilson.  He may look harmless with his dorky haircut and equally dorky sweaters, but he's got a psychological control over Brian Wilson that's dangerous.  He's a therapist who's practically skin-grafted onto the emotionally broken musician.  He keeps Wilson away from relatives, he tags along when Wilson has a date, he administers pills for Wilson to take.  Giamatti has one Oscar nomination to his credit (Best Supporting Actor for 2005's Cinderella Man).  He's fierce and nasty in Love & Mercy.
Here's my DVD Double Feature tip for your weekend viewing:  Love & Mercy followed by Shampoo, one of Warren Beatty's biggest movie hits.
The 1975 satire boasts music by The Beach Boys and The Beatles on its soundtrack.  Hal Ashby (Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Being There) directed the movie.  Robert Towne (Chinatown) and Beatty wrote the screenplay.  Warren Beatty stars as the sexy Beverly Hills hairstylist who's popular with the ladies in the salon and in the bedroom.  His hand-held blow dryer is pretty much a portable phallic symbol.
 This movie is about sexual politics.  It came out after the Watergate scandal.  That's the scandal that forced President Richard Nixon to resign from office on live TV in August 1974.  Shampoo takes place on the day America elected Nixon to the White House.  Characters in Shampoo are more concerned with getting laid than they are with who will be running the country.  The cast includes Julie Christie, Goldie Hawn, Lee Grant, Jack Warden and -- in her screen debut -- Carrie Fisher.

Have a good weekend.  I hope you dig Paul Dano in Love & Mercy as much as I did.

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