Time hasn’t been kind to many of the Beach Boys’ early hits.
While the Rolling Stones continue to sound relevant and most of the Beatles’ songbook still flows perfectly out of Paul McCartney, there’s something inherently creepy about a bunch of septuagenarians singing about teenage girls in bikinis.
The Brian Wilson movie “Love & Mercy,” opening Friday, is similarly dismissive of those songs as it burns through them during the opening credits.
While the visionary Wilson (played as a young man by Paul Dano and as an adult by John Cusack) is crashing through musical boundaries with the now legendary “Pet Sounds” album, bandmate Mike Love (Jake Abel) just wants to go back to the old reliable Beach Boys sound of “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ Safari” and “Surfin’ USA.”
“I can’t write about summer and fun and summer and summer and fun and cars,” Wilson says, by way of refusal. No one in the band surfs, he reminds Love, and real surfers don’t like their music.
You don’t need to look at the movie’s credits to tell Wilson was involved in its production.
“Love & Mercy” takes several jabs at Love’s shortsightedness, including his near glee when “Pet Sounds” isn’t a commercial success. And the movie’s villains, Wilson’s father, Murry (Bill Camp), and Wilson’s controlling psychotherapist, Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), might as well be twirling their mustaches on a telenovela.
Rather than tell Wilson’s life story, “Love & Mercy” focuses on two key events: his struggles to complete “Pet Sounds” in 1966 amid the onset of his mental illness and his struggles, with the help of his Cadillac-selling girlfriend, Melinda (Elizabeth Banks), to break free from Dr. Landy, who pumped him full of pills and isolated him from his family for years.
The latter, set in the mid-1980s, sheds light on Wilson’s famed reclusiveness. “Did you really spend two years in bed?” Melinda asks, early in their relationship. “No. It was more like three,” he admits. “But that’s what I tell people.” Later, he reveals the extent of his illness. Wilson: “I hear voices.” Melinda: “Since when?” Wilson: “1963.”
The former explores Wilson’s inescapable genius. Inspired by “Rubber Soul” and his fear of letting the Beatles gain the upper hand, Wilson skips a tour of Japan to work on “Pet Sounds.”
His domineering father describes a rough early version of “God Only Knows” as “a suicide note,” but Wilson isn’t deterred. He’s still composing it, but he’s already carved out a space for the sounds of a French horn and sleigh bells. When a session musician asks how a particular combination of sounds is supposed to work, he tells her, “Well, it works in my head.” At one point, he brings barking dogs and a bicycle horn into the studio before asking for a horse.
It’s a fascinating story, the power of which is only slightly diminished by Wilson’s high-profile recovery and comeback.
He’s been back on the road for nearly two decades now and is spending the summer touring with another movie star: Rodriguez of “Searching for Sugar Man” fame.

Review: “Love & Mercy,” 120 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content and language. Grade: B.