Beach Boys doc celebrates band’s “Fun fun fun”

Competition with the Beatles helped push limits

Beach Boys
Where: Disney+
What: Movie
When: Fri., May 24
Genre: Documentary
Rating: NNNN (out of 5)
Why you should watch: As Beach Boy feuds and Brian Wilson’s mental health issues dominate thoughts of this band, this doc reminds us of their musical importance and the “fun fun fun” at the heart of so much of their music.

THERE’S a certain “setting the record straight” feel to the upbeat doc Beach Boys. Their story of late was dominated by tales of inter-member lawsuits and Brian Wilson’s mental health issues, largely framed by the 2021 doc Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road, which left other band members’ stories largely untold.

Lead singer Mike Love looms larger in this telling, his contributions to the songwriting a bigger part of this version of the story. Fundamentally, the film feels like an effort to remind us of how “fun fun fun” literally was at the core of their music, the band able to capture innocent longings of youth trapping them in the aspic of their songs.

Using new interviews with surviving members — both of Wilson’s younger siblings Carl and Dennis have passed — as well as great archival clips, vintage news items, performance footage and more, the film does capture the joy in their music and music-making that is often overshadowed by more salacious details, including the psychotic behaviour and career mismanagement of the band by the Wilson’s father and Love’s uncle, Murry Wilson.

We see three Wilson brothers joined by their cousin Love and high school pal Al Jardine, who love singing together and enjoy early success espousing the surf-living lifestyle that only Dennis actually engaged in. The abusive and controlling Wilson father, who’s actually jealous of his sons’ success, is a dark and brooding presence over their sunny scene.

The film reveals details of the Beach Boys’ “workaround” steps taken to accommodate Brian’s hate of touring just when the band was in high demand for live performances. We learn of the friendly jealousy and competition between the Beach Boys and the Beatles, each band pushing the other to challenge and expand the boundaries of pop music.

We see the band struggle to bring fans along with them as they tried to “mature” their sound beyond tales of sports cars, beautiful blondes and swelling surf as well as a look at the later years, when they struggled for relevance.

The film ultimately forms a good companion to the Wilson doc, and it is refreshing to see the other band members’ roles expanded upon. A final scene of surviving members recreating an iconic beachside shot from their early days is satisfying and feels like it was especially important to Love, who would like the bad blood stories to recede.

While he says he didn’t have an overly firm hand in the production, and the film generally reflects that, it is telling that on the closing credits, the “filmmakers” chose to play out the film with Kokomo, the band’s last hit and probably schlockiest million seller. It’s also a song that Wilson had no role in writing, that job left to Love and some celebrity collaborators.

Read NEXT’s interview with Mike Love here.