Sunday, June 23, 2024

Movie Review: ‘The Beach Boys’ Lets the Sun Shine on a Great American Band

Directors: Frank Marshall, Thom Zimny
Writer: Mark Monroe
Stars: Janelle Monáe, The Beach Boys, Lindsey Buckingham

Synopsis: A celebration of the legendary band that revolutionized pop music and created the harmonious sound that personified the California Dream.

The new Disney+ documentary The Beach Boys is one of the more informative films on a famous person or group for millennials or young people in recent memory. Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny’s engaging new feature reveals the band’s influence and goes beyond the band’s surfer boy, free spirit image. Not to mention uncovering (more like a good dusting off) fascinating details across decades of changes in the American landscape.

The Beach Boys were most likely your parents’ or grandparents’ band. Considering their well-known touring prowess, you probably accompanied them to see an outdoor concert during their resurgence in the ’80s and ’90s across major and minor league baseball parks across the United States. They may seem corny because they focus on their earlier hits, which sell. But The Beach Boys’ story is an all-American one of evolution, redemption, and timeless, lasting impact.

The documentary’s outline is uneven, but that doesn’t make the band’s journey any less fascinating. The first act follows the formation of the band, a group of sandy blonde teenagers singing songs of positivity, even though most of them hated the water. The Beach Boys were practically a family business. Started by Brian Wilson along with his brothers Dennis and Carl, they were encouraged to sing and write songs by their overbearing and alcoholic father, Murray.

Along with their cousin Mike Love and close friend Al Jardine, the band found a niche with songs of a sunny disposition during peacetime in American culture. However, as the film progresses, we learn about the songwriting process and why the band kept turning over members more than The View. Brian Wilson had no formal training or education in music. Still, he was recognized as a genius in emotional depth, melodic arrangement, harmonization, and innovative techniques that changed pop music forever.

The flip side of that genius comes from a place of trauma. The elder Wilson wielded a large stick without a carrot. History has shown how Murray protected the teenagers with his burly and boundary-breaking style. However, his unrealized dream as a musician involved being overbearing toward his sons and band members. That led to Murray being demoted as the manager, but he was never taken off as head of publishing. This was Brian Wilson’s biggest mistake because a bitter Murray sold the entire band’s catalog for 500,000 dollars. Those songs are now estimated to be worth eight figures or more.

The documentary’s second act draws more amazing parallels (and offers terrific insight and experts such as Janelle Monáe). For one, The Beatles landed on Ed Sullivan while touring Asia. They are known as the world’s biggest band, and they stole the group’s momentum. The bitterness in some members’ voices, particularly the elder Wilson brother, is eye-opening and even comical. Brian Wilson says that the Beatles record “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is “not that good of a record.” They were even said to be “crude,” and The Beach Boys were more “refined.” The film also includes a recording of Sir Paul McCartney discussing the rivalry.

Even in a clip of Ed Sullivan introducing Wilson and his band (which is weird after seeing the famous clip of their arch-nemesis for decades), critics had to debate which song was better, “Fun, Fun, Fun” or the now iconic “She Loves You.” Even though The Beach Boys were popular for years (they were even more popular in England when Lennon and Company broke onto the scene), they became known as the “American Beatles.” Yet, an even more shocking revelation is how Charles Manson wrote a song on the B-side of the band’s album “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” after befriending Dennis Wilson called “Never Learn Not To Love.”

The Beach Boys excels at using a narrative structure of historical linear threads through the iconic band’s timeline, which continues to astonish if you are a novice to the band and the era. It may seem far-fetched, but this is very similar to films like Forrest Gump or The Butler (and yes, I realize those are fictional). Since these are real-life figures, it makes the nonfiction film even more interesting and engaging.

While you would like The Beach Boys to offer a more precise and detailed picture of Brian Wilson’s struggles, his breakdown and childhood are kept at arm’s length, and you cannot possibly ignore the Beach Boys’ journey to their place in American music history. While striving to reinvent themselves to regain the respect they lost in some circles, their “positivity” ultimately became their salvation. In an era where mental health is now at a premium today, their music is as relevant as ever.

Grade: A-

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