When biopics get made about notables, it’s still problematic that most actors won’t look exactly like the subject. But that might finally change with a new Brian Wilson biopic announced, even if John Cusack playing an older Wilson could create some questioning of the casting. It’s the second pick of Paul Dano as a young Wilson that’s perhaps the most inspired casting choice in a biopic since Daniel Day-Lewis played Abraham Lincoln.
The reason Dano is such a good choice is because he looks nearly identical to a young Brian Wilson during the 1960s, as well as being a memorable actor. He also has a musical background, which always helps in understanding how to play a musician. How, though, can he capture Brian Wilson’s creative madness when it’s still such an internal aspect to Wilson’s success?
Therein lies the problem with portraying a musical mastermind and trying to figure out where the genius comes from. It’s been attempted many times, though most films leave us to figure it out on our own through other means. For Wilson, it may be the equivalent of having to crack the musical code of Mozart in “Amadeus.”
Had it not been for the trumped up rivalry between Salieri and Mozart as the main plot of “Amadeus”, there wouldn’t have been much story. Knowing the gift of musical creation in Mozart would have involved having to go inside his head to find out the source of those abilities. It comes very close to the same with Brian Wilson.
Can all of Wilson’s outside life troubles be connected to the architecture of his music so it makes sense? The pressure from his demanding father can explain his depression and ultimate breakdown, even if it can’t explain his already formed and uncanny ability to create complex vocal arrangements. As we’ve seen before in the 2000 TV miniseries “The Beach Boys: An American Family”, Wilson was a tragic case of musical brilliance being nearly destroyed due to a lack of understanding of that by the patriarch of the family.
This new biopic will likely expand on more than most people want to know. What if it does attempt to go inside Wilson’s head, though, and give an interpretation of what’s behind his meticulous musical skills? It might get into the spiritual when you consider Wilson gives credit to a higher power for his abilities.
Whether a biopic can get away with that is up to how brave the screenplay (by Oren Moverman) is without going by an autobiography. Considering Wilson has yet to publish an official autobiography, he’ll have to provide insight on the set about how to interpret his thoughts. Nevertheless, it’s not as if film hasn’t attempted to go into someone’s head before.
The real problem lies in the near impossibility of interpreting musical brilliance when it’s an indescribable process. If nothing else, the Wilson biopic may want to attempt to show how a combination of events in one’s upbringing could coalesce and create a pattern of musical ability.
That may be the only way without having a mysterious muse from the great beyond speaking in Brian Wilson’s head.