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Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023


Featuring Brian Wilson, Jason Fine, Al Jardine, Don Was, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Nick Jonas, Jim James, Jakob Dylan, Gustavo Dudamel, Linda Perry, Taylor Hawkins, Steven Page, Bob Gaudio, Blondie Chaplin, Stephen Kalinich, Melinda Wilson and Andy Paley.

Written by Brent Wilson and Jason Fine.

Directed by Brent Wilson.

Distributed by Screen Media. 93 minutes. Not Rated.

Is it possible to see a documentary in which you understand the subject better, and yet at the same time you really have little idea of what is going on in his head?

Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road makes it seem that this is indeed possible.

Brian Wilson is an interesting case. He obviously hates being interviewed and is often quite guarded about what he says or how he reacts. Just in general, with all of his past mental problems and the medications he’s on, and just his simple shyness, he is often inscrutable. But then he is also very honest, and he will periodically drop little nuggets of truth – like how he gets nervous and scared by things going on around him – with little warning or provocation.

Music journalist Jason Fine, an editor at Rolling Stone, has been interviewing Wilson for decades now. In fact, over the years they stopped being journalist and subject and became close friends. He knows Wilson very well – well as well as anyone could for such a guarded man – and he realizes that the best approach to interviewing Wilson is to be non-confrontational. He has to lure him out gently, with no sudden moves. It is better to just get Wilson in a situation where he feels comfortable to just talk.

That’s why in Long Promised Road, Fine and Wilson just drive around the LA area, listening to old music, revisiting the sites of historical moments in the former Beach Boy’s life, going to Wilson’s favorite deli and chatting. It’s an interesting approach to making a documentary, one that sometimes bears fruit, but also leaves the audience feeling a bit distant from the subject.

The one slight problem with this is that Fine, as a friend and knowing that Wilson is very skittish about interviews, tends to toss him softball questions and skip over things which may upset Wilson. For example, Fine never once asks about Wilson’s rocky relationship with his cousin and former bandmate Mike Love, who sued Wilson for publishing rights and has taken over the Beach Boys name for the last several decades. Love even fired Wilson – arguably The Beach Boys’ resident genius – from the band after a brief 50th Anniversary reunion tour almost a decade ago.

In fact, Mike Love is barely even mentioned at all in Long Promised Road. He appears in some old pictures, and some video clips, and Brian Wilson does briefly give him credit for doing a good lead vocal on “California Girls.” I get why Fine doesn’t push Wilson to talk about Love – it would undoubtedly raise some awkward issues with his timid interview subject. Also, as a friend Fine probably is keeping in mind that getting some negative statement about Love will only just intensify the two men’s animosity. And, frankly, I wouldn’t want to talk about Mike Love either, and I’ve only met the man once. However, for better or worse (and often for both), Love did play a huge part in Beach Boys history.

Even more surprisingly, childhood friend-turned-bandmate Al Jardine – who is still on very good terms with Wilson and plays with Wilson’s solo band, and who does a brief talking head comment here – is also barely acknowledged in the film.

But, okay, Long Promised Road wants to focus more on the Wilson brothers (Brian and his late brothers Dennis and Carl) than the other members of the band. Fair enough. Brian reminiscing about Dennis (who drowned in 1983) and Carl (who died of cancer in 1998) make for some of the most emotional moments of the documentary. In fact, a scene where Fine plays Brian a bit of Dennis’ acclaimed but overlooked 1977 solo album Pacific Ocean Blue – which Brian acknowledged he’d never heard before – was particularly heartbreaking in its recognition of missed opportunities.

Long Promised Road does do a good job of going over the two other disruptive major male figures in Wilson’s life, his abusive father (and longtime Beach Boys manager) Murry Wilson and the exploitative disgraced psychiatrist Dr. Eugene Landy who basically took over Wilson’s life through much of the 1980s.

However the most important thing about Long Promised Road is that it celebrates the musical genius and accomplishments of Brian Wilson. Any film that has nearly wall-to-wall Brian Wilson music is definitely worthy of your time.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: November 18, 2021.


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