Whether Beach Boys music framed the days your childhood, or you know it as classic soft rock, it probably has an important emotional place in your memories. As I was growing up, technology didn’t exist to appreciate the full quality of the instrumentals behind the Beach Boys hits. My car radio and bedroom clock/radio were grievously incapable of transmitting the incredible sound values of this music. Even so, it had a place in my life that was more important than I realized.

The story structure in “Love & Mercy” is not linear — that style opens the door for us into the mind of Brian Wilson, which dances capriciously from one realm to another. It’s a composite of Brian’s emotional life, from his point of view, rather than a detailed history — a poetic journey inside the inspirations of a musical genius.

The scoring of the film by composer Atticus Ross and the handling of the recording sessions by cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman and director Bill Pohlad are superb. The scenes of the music developing in Brian’s head are very effective, especially to those of us with creative, unpredictable minds. They capture the depth and emotional quality of Brian’s sounds.

Paul Dano gives a remarkable portrayal of young Brian and bears a startling resemblance to him. His understanding of the fragile mental state of this musician is subtle and believable. I was pleased to see that filmmakers cast an actor who could play the piano well — then I discovered later that Dano elected to do a “crash course” in piano for this role. John Cusack, who plays Brian during a later stage of life when he is riddled with overmedication and psychosis, nails the role. We can feel his silent, agonized cries. Paul Giamatti creates a bone-chilling portrayal of the power-hungry psychiatrist.

In one poignant scene, Brian takes his girlfriend to the site of his family home in Hawthorne, now an empty dead end with a busy freeway visible across a fence, as the house had been demolished in the mid-1980s. The film doesn’t cover the future of the spot — in 2004, music industry notables had the site designated as a state historic landmark. A monument has been erected there and Richard Huhn, Chair of the Hawthorne Parks & Recreation Commission, still sells commemorative bricks for the site and donates his time to keep it clean.

This movie schools us in the fact that we take our contemporary music for granted. It seems to magically emanate from our phones, our iPods, our computers, to underscore our feelings and provide a backdrop for our lives. We don’t realize how important it is to us in coloring our existence, in helping us hang on to our stability through unsettling periods in our lives. We don’t realize the depth, the angst and talent of the musicians who create it, many of whom we revere today, the future Mozart’s and Bach’s of music history. Brian Wilson indeed is a modern-day Beethoven.

Rated PG-13. 121 minutes.

Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at kwboole@gmail.com.For previously published reviews, see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.

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