Friday, June 21, 2024

“THE BEACH BOYS”

THE STORYA celebration of the legendary band that revolutionized pop music and created the harmonious sound that personified the California Dream.

THE CASTThe Beach Boys, Janelle Monáe & Lindsey Buckingham

THE TEAMFrank Marshall & Thom Zimny (Directors)

THE RUNNING TIME113 Minutes


When you think of surfing, California beaches, and fun under the sun, chances are that The Beach Boys color the soundtrack to those daydreams. The California rockers hit the scene in the 1960s and have continuously built up a fanbase ever since, thanks to easy-listening hits like “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “Good Vibrations,” and “God Only Knows.” Now, more than 60 years since the group’s beginnings and in an era when it seems like everyone has a film about them, the band is getting the documentary treatment with Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny’s “The Beach Boys.”

There have been plenty of films about this iconic band, including 2014’s “Love & Mercy” – starring both John Cusack and Paul Dano as leader Brian Wilson – as well as documentaries centered on Wilson’s struggles with fame and substance use. But, a full-fledged lesson on “The Beach Boys” has been missing until now. Fans and casual listeners of the California group will enjoy this trip down memory lane that goes through the group’s beginnings, as well as their stardom and struggles. Its biggest setbacks, however, are that the film doesn’t present much new information – more often than not, it feels like a summary of The Beach Boys’ Wikipedia page – and it doesn’t dig deep into the band’s and its members’ most interesting and messy aspects.

New talking head interviews with past and present band members, archive footage, photographs, and more take us on a journey through the band’s early days. Originally formed by brothers Brian, Dennis, and Carl Wilson, their cousin Mike Love, and their friend Al Jardine, family was always an important aspect to this group, along with making great music. The three brothers grew up in a musical household, and would sing three-part harmonies in the back of their parents’ car. Growing up in Southern California, surfing culture was a big deal, although only one of the brothers (Dennis) was an avid surfer. Those details make it even more surprising and cheeky that the group would become so synonymous with big waves and suntans along the Pacific Coast. 

The documentary then goes on autopilot mode when it comes to telling The Beach Boys’ story. It includes Brian’s struggles with fame, opting to leave the touring group and focus on songwriting and mental health; the constant fight for dominance on the charts between them and The Beatles; tensions with the three siblings’ father Murry; the band’s identity shift; and where they are today. If one were to look up the band’s Wikipedia page, one would get most of this information already. Some interviews with members, at times, do give us more insights. Among the most interesting is The Beach Boys’ rivalry with The Beatles in the 1960s. For audiences today, it might be hard to imagine these two going against each other, especially when their versions of rock were so vastly different, but it’s a compelling moment in the film to see how much they both competed with and inspired each other to put out the best music possible. Paul McCartney (whose voice we only hear) shares that he thought The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” was “the album of all time,” and it got him and his bandmates sweating about their futures.

Frequently, however, these deep insights – especially from Brian – are sorely lacking in the film. At the beginning of the documentary, we see Brian sitting at his piano, but he then disappears for the rest of the documentary, only to be seen via archival footage or heard. When only his voiceover is heard, it’s hard to tell if that is coming from a current interview or from something in the past. Whatever the source, Brian will share bits of information, like how he started changing personally and professionally due to drug use or mental health struggles, but we never get a truly intimate look into his life at that point or what led him there. Similarly, when his father sold the production rights to the band’s catalog, that was a devastating moment for Brian – according to many of the people in his life. More often than not, other people tell us about Brian and periods of his life rather than letting him talk for himself. Perhaps he didn’t want to discuss his troubled past, which is understandable, or he was reluctant to speak because of tension between him and Mike over royalty lawsuits for royalties. In any case, if this is meant to be the ultimate Beach Boys documentary, it feels incomplete without Brian’s input. 

Also missing from “The Beach Boys” is a discussion of the deaths of Dennis and Carl – in 1983 and 1998, respectively – and how that impacted members of the group. Considering the fact that they were both original members and vital to the band’s success, it’s strange that this emotional aspect is entirely missing from the film, aside from an in memoriam at the end. Again, it would have given us more of those needed insights, especially from Brian. Dennis’ connections to Charles Manson are shared, which are fascinating, but his memory should not be reduced to once being friends with a convicted murderer. 

But, perhaps the biggest missed opportunity with this documentary comes at the end, when we see the remaining Beach Boys members get together to chat on the beach. They’re laughing, engaging in deep discussions, and even playing some music together. These men have a treasure trove of inside jokes and stories together, and giving them free reign to discuss it all should have been the film. Who knows what kind of interesting information would have been revealed? But, given what we have today, “The Beach Boys” is a fine film that tells this iconic band’s legacy, even if some elements are missing.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Fans and casual listeners of the California group will enjoy this trip down memory lane that goes through the group’s beginnings, as well as their stardom and struggles.

THE BAD - Doesn’t present much new information – more often than not it feels like a summary of The Beach Boys’ Wikipedia page – and doesn’t dig deep into the band’s and its members’ most interesting and messy aspects. It’s too by-the-numbers, and when we see the remaining band members get together at the end, it feels like a huge missed opportunity to really let them tell their story.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 5/10

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Ema Sasic
Ema Sasic
Journalist for The Desert Sun. Film critic and awards season enthusiast. Bosnian immigrant

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Fans and casual listeners of the California group will enjoy this trip down memory lane that goes through the group’s beginnings, as well as their stardom and struggles.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Doesn’t present much new information – more often than not it feels like a summary of The Beach Boys’ Wikipedia page – and doesn’t dig deep into the band’s and its members’ most interesting and messy aspects. It’s too by-the-numbers, and when we see the remaining band members get together at the end, it feels like a huge missed opportunity to really let them tell their story. <br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>5/10<br><br>"THE BEACH BOYS"