The Beach Boys (2024)

The Disney+ documentary, “The Beach Boys,” celebrates America’s band.

Beach Boys doc barely avoids a wipeout

God only knows what Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny were thinking when they entertained the notion that they could condense the 60-odd-year history of America’s most beloved rock band into a span of 113 minutes. Heck, Martin Scorsese devoted almost twice that to just one Beatle with “George Harrison: Living In the Material World.” So, you can imagine how sparse and trivial Marshall and Zimny have rendered “The Beach Boys.”

The offering from Disney+ is no doubt enjoyable, especially the trove of archival photos and videos the directors have amassed. But if you’re expecting something as electrifying as the Mouse’s brilliant “The Beatles: Get Back” from 2021, you are in for a major disappointment.

What’s here delivers little additional insight, as it rehashes what any respectable Beach Boy fan learned long ago. That would be the bittersweet tale of a musical “genius,” his two brothers, cousin and former football teammate, who went from performing in a garage in Hawthorne, California, to becoming international sensations and chief rivals of The Beatles. And once they reached their pinnacle, the good vibrations suddenly escalated into an earthquake of hard feelings, mental illness and enough recreational and prescription drugs to sadate an army.

Yet, like a Phoenix, they rose from the ashes, ironically, borne aloft by a new generation of music fans eager to embrace the squeaky clean image the band so long attempted to escape.

Drawing on the aforementioned clips and recent interviews with Brian Wilson, his cousin Mike Love, and surviving bandmates Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, the movie provides a historical timeline of a new musical genre born out of a blend of Dick Dale surf music and the gorgeous vocal arrangements epitomized by The Four Freshmen. They practiced, practiced, practiced in the garage owned by Murray and Audree Wilson, whose sons (Brian, Dennis and Carl) expanded upon the three-part harmonies they perfected as children while riding in the back seat of the family car.

It seemed almost preordained that their cousin, Mike Love; neighbor, David Marks; and Brian’s high school chum, Al Jardine, would magically commingle into the most beautiful vocal ensemble this side of the Tabernacle Choir. And with Murray as their tenacious and at times pushy manager, the boys were almost immediately signed by Capitol Records and molded into the personification of the California Dream, a mythical utopian lifestyle encompassing sun, hot cars, beautiful babes and surfing safaris.

Never mind that the only surfer in the bunch was Dennis, they conformed to the image and ran with it to the bank. Brian’s creative output, often in collaboration with Love, was staggering in the early years, pumping out hit after hit. How they were able to achieve this phenomenon is disappointingly skirted over. As are Brian’s many battles with Murray over the band’s musical direction.

Still, some of the most compelling moments emanate from the backstage arguments the two engaged in while unbeknownst to them the tape was rolling. Brian, to his credit, retains his cool, as dear ol’ dad badgers him and his bandmates to the extent that Marks, still a teenager, voluntarily left the group after its fourth album.

You get the sense Brian almost envied Marks. But when the band’s Yoko Ono is your dad, you’re pretty much stuck. Worse, there suddenly was competition at the top of the charts with those four charming lads from Liverpool. What’s a “genius” to do? Create the masterpiece, “Pet Sounds,” of course. But if it’s that exceptional – and it is, one of the 10 best albums ever recorded – wouldn’t it be nice if the directors had illustrated what it was that set it apart? And why not delve deeper into Brian’s thought processes while recording it with the famed studio band, the Wrecking Crew? Where and how did he come up with all those revolutionary concepts? Incorporating a theremin? Who thinks of that?

The film is further hamstrung by the absences of Dennis and Carl, who passed away in 1983 and 1998, respectively. They appear via decades-old interviews that now seem stale. And even though Brian is a willing participant, he’s represented more through archival clips than by speaking in the present. And what connection do OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, USC professor Josh Kun, and Grammy-nominee Janelle Monáe have with The Beach Boys? They either weren’t born yet or were in diapers when Dennis Wilson died.

I suspect they are here to engage young folks. And for those slightly older, we get Lindsey Buckingham and Don Was to amplify the praises. Both are talents in their own right, but what ties do they have to The Beach Boys other than being fans? Nor do they offer any wisdom beyond reminding us that The Beach Boys were hugely influential.

The best part just might be the end, when the five surviving members of the band reunite for a picnic at Paradise Cove, the lovely beach where they posed for their first album cover more than 60 years earlier. Being privy to their discourse would have been something. Perhaps a documentary all its own. But we’re barely allowed to listen in. And if I had to hear one more time about the ups and downs of family … Well, you know. But the music, most of it sampled, is infectious. That, plus the powerful nostalgia factor rescue “The Beach Boys” from tedium. Yet, what’s here is little more than footprints in the Southern California sand. But don’t worry baby, to quote a song, you’ll more than likely have fun, fun, fun.

Movie review

The Beach Boys

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language, smoking, drug material

Director: Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny

Writer: Mark Monroe

Runtime: 113 minutes

Where: On Disney Plus starting May 24

Grade: B-

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