Biographical documentaries almost always follow the same formula. Often made after the subject’s passing, we’ll be drowned in an onslaught of talking heads – often inexplicably selected with seemingly no link to the subject whatsoever – waxing poetic about how influential and pioneering a person was, as we embark on a by-the-numbers walkthrough of their life. But sometimes, a filmmaker will do something different to really get into the soul of its subject. And even more rarely, the film will be made in collaboration with its subject.
This charming new bio of Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson spends the majority of its runtime on a poignant road-trip with Brian as the camera captures the candid conversation between him and Rolling Stone editor Jason Fine on a touching journey through his life and career. While the usual parade of stars including Bruce Springsteen and Elton John still come out to bestow their praise onto the musician in cheesy interviews, it is the moments of unscripted conversation between Wilson and Fine that really give the film its heart. The involvement of Brian elevates the film to a far warmer and sweeter film, with no substitute for hearing his stories from him directly.
Fans of Wilson will be very familiar with his struggles and his quiet demeanor, but this film sees him (mostly) more relaxed than usual as he discusses his long career, influences, process and more. The resulting film doesn’t hold any surprise revelations for Brian’s fans, but the sweet and gentle journey is befitting of its subject and feels like you’re right there in the car. Although it should be noted that, as is the case with watching Brian in any capacity nowadays, there is a certain bittersweetness to it all. While on the one hand it’s wonderful to be in the presence of his genius and listen to his stories and music, it is also upsetting to see the troubled and damaged man he is today. It’s hardly surprising though, considering the countless battles he has faced as documented here and in Bill Pohlad’s masterful biopic Love & Mercy (which makes for an excellent companion piece to this doc).
Packed with fascinating archive materials including studio footage, interviews and never-before-heard demos, Long Promised Road is certainly more of a treat for fans of the artist than newcomers. This is as much a love letter to Brian as it is a portrait of him, and a warm and affectionate journey through his storied life and career. But those unfamiliar with Brian will almost surely walk away with a far greater appreciation and respect for both him and The Beach Boys in general. It is impossible not to be inspired by Brian Wilson;s
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road is a beautiful film packed with immaculate music and love for its subject.
BRIAN WILSON: LONG PROMISED ROAD is in select cinemas now and available on DVD & Blu-ray from February 21, 2022