Dennis Quaid as Jerry Lee Lewis
Fans remain divided about the merits of the film to this day. Brad Shade, commenting on the passing of another rock legend, said: “RIP Chuck Berry. Jerry Lee Lewis will be the last man standing. He’s survived everything, even the biopic with Dennis Quaid.”
Angela Bassett as Tina Turner
Fans are so devoted to the film that several claimed not to know Angela Bassett wasn’t actually Tina Turner until years later. Chelsea Sims said, “Angela Bassett as Tina Turner is one of the greatest biopics ever”, while LeToya Henry noted, “For years Angela Bassett & Laurence Fishburne were Ike & Tina Turner because they acted so well in those parts & they don’t resemble at all!”
Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone
Typical comments range from the considerate to the downright livid. Urban Fervorsummed up the views of those who felt she was never right for the role, saying, “Still mad at Zoe Saldana for that Nina Simone biopic. The blame isn’t solely on her shoulders of course. It was a good gig to win. But…” While Baenerys didn’t even think she did a good job: “What insulted me so much about Zoe Saldana playing Nina Simone like more than not looking a thing like her, she didn’t embody her!”
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash
In Walk the Line, Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon tell the story of Johnny Cash’s ascent to stardom, the decline of his first marriage and his near-ruinous addictions. Unlike Val Kilmer or Jamie Foxx, Joaquin does not bear a strong facial resemblance to his subject, although his singing voice was good enough to pass muster, so he sang live versions of Cash songs where needed.
The real key to his performance is in the eyes. Flitting between haughty and haunted, Phoenix played Cash as a man trying to better himself despite his demons, a performance that fits with the public perception the great man. Or as Dave Reed on Twitter recently wrote: “Ever since I watched Walk the Line I just imagine Johnny Cash as Joaquin Phoenix, no matter how many pictures I see of the real Johnny Cash.”
John Cusack as Brian Wilson
Love & Mercy is an odd film. It depicts Brian Wilson in two important stages of his life. There’s the 1960s boy genius (played hauntingly by Paul Dano) – composing Good Vibrations and God Only Knows in the studio for The Beach Boys and being tormented by his father Murray – and there’s the eccentric 1980s former rock star, attempting to regain his mental health while under the controlling influence of his therapist, Dr. Eugene Landy.
John Cusack plays Wilson in his later years, and the disconnect between his version of Brian and Paul Dano’s is one that fans have struggled with, especially since the 1960s scenes of Brian in the studio are vivid and exciting. Sam Hill said, “Watching Love and Mercy. A film of two halves. Paul Dano utterly convincing as Brian Wilson. John Cusack utterly unconvincing”, while Joel Carrol added, “Watched that Brian Wilson movie where there were cool flashbacks, and then he turned into John Cusack for some reason…”