The story of Brain Wilson and the Beach Boys has been told before in the form of documentaries and motion pictures, including the 2014 film Love and Mercy which features John Cusack and Paul Dano as Brian Wilson. A good film, but often difficult to watch considering what Brian Wilson went through in his life. Yes, knowing it was a motion picture made it easier to watch. Currently seeing that Wilson is touring again could easily lead fans to believe that all is well with the incredibly talented composer and performer. The new documentary Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road from director Brent Wilson (no relation) and Ley Line Entertainment establishes quite quickly that all is not well. This is not a motion picture, and it is not easy to watch.
Much of this 93-minute project is spent with Brian Wilson being brought around to old houses, hangouts, and haunts, and reminiscing with longtime friend and Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine. Brian clearly struggles with social interaction and much of the trip down memory lane. So uncomfortable is Brian, that he often chooses to remain in the car and fight back tears. Fine is obviously a trusted friend and experienced with talking to the reluctant Brian. Nonetheless, the exchanges are awkward and often seem forced.
Where our time with Brain is not awkward is when we see him in the studio. This is clearly his safe place. He is in charge and knows what he wants and how to make it happen. Watching him create, direct, and play music, is the highlight of the documentary. We see Brian working on new music and revisiting some of his early work, and there seems to be a comfort and peace there for him, and for the audience as well. Bruce Springsteen, who we see commenting throughout the production, expresses the impact of the music this way: “The funny thing about those songs is they’re both more joyful and more painful now because of the loss of your own youth, your own adolescence, and yet at the same time that does speak to your current life which is the hallmark of great and lasting music.”
It’s hard to watch the documentary without wanting more of the Beach Boys. We get some footage of Brian with Dennis and Carl but considering how much we see of Al on stage, we hear very little from him, or Mike. It’s easy to develop questions about the perceived rift between Mike and Brian and to want to know more about the fiftieth anniversary, and next year’s sixtieth anniversary. There is none of that here. This is about Brian, his music and his life, past and present. He doesn’t have a bad word to say about anyone. In fact, he exudes the innocence of a child. Nick Jonas expresses many thoughts on Brian in the documentary including: “There’s very few people that continue to make the kind of impact that he’s made and having gone through all that he’s gone through and coming through the other side is really kind of incredible and again so rare.”
This is a tough call, but I’m going to have to give this Ron’s Rejection. I just found this too uncomfortable to enjoy. I found myself wishing that Fine would stop so we won’t have to hear the Rain Man-like responses from Brian and see the emotion being brought forth. You don’t need to wheel him out every few years for everyone to look at. True fans would prefer that you show him some love and mercy and leave him to do what he loves to do and what we love to hear.
Hearing comments from Sir Elton John are a wonderful and insightful part of the documentary, and he sums things up quite well for all of us: “When I hear his music, it makes me smile. It makes me realize there is a lot of songs left in me, there’s still a lot of songs left in Brian. He’s always writing, he’s always making music, and I have that love of him that will never ever die.”
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road is scheduled for release at Special Fan Screenings in theaters today and on Demand Friday.