The Beach Boys

The Beach Boys achieved fame via songs about surfing, even though only one of them actually surfed. That anecdote is a perfect encapsulation of the band. They managed to tap into something that resonated with millions of people and continues to resonate decades later. The eponymous Disney+ documentary delves into the fascinating, often troubled story of the musical legends. I confess to not being much of a Beach Boys fan, and yet I was riveted by this detailed look at their legacy.

Directors Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny use archival interviews and never-before-seen footage to document the band’s history. Interspersed with that are new interviews with members Mike Love and Al Jardine, along with celebrity admirers including Janelle Monáe, producer Don Was, and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham. Early scenes describe how siblings Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson teamed up with cousin Love and friend Jardine to emulate the singing groups they all liked. Brian meticulously created their harmonies. The result was good enough to convince dad Murry Wilson to become their manager. Before long, they were making waves on the radio.

The Beach Boys goes into detail about what happened from there, including the band’s eventual decision to fire Murry. (There’s an amazing audio recording of Murry and Brian arguing in the studio.) We learn that Brian eventually didn’t want to tour anymore, so the others went on the road without him while he stayed at home writing music. This led to the famed studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew eventually being the ones playing instruments on Beach Boys records. The other guys had to learn their own songs before heading out on tour.

Brian Wilson’s status as the group’s resident genius also factors into the documentary. While there’s no doubt he was the driving force behind the music, Bruce Johnston – who was added to the Beach Boys for touring – astutely says that Brian “was lucky to have our voices sing his dreams.” More than anything, this is the major hook of the movie. For all their immense success, the band wasn’t entirely unified. Brian did his own thing, Love feels he got cheated out of his songwriting contributions, and the others dutifully fulfilled touring obligations without a key member. Hearing Love, Jardine, and Johnston talk about this odd dynamic is captivating.

Additional tidbits include the controversial Pet Sounds album, a friendly rivalry with the Beatles, and the group’s eventual revival in popularity. Marshall and Zimny tell the band’s story in smooth, efficient style, packing in a lot of information without causing it to feel as though anything is being glossed over. What comes across most strongly is that the vibe created by the Beach Boys was so alluring, it withstood whatever tensions or pressures were taking place within the band. Every member believed in what they were doing, just as their fans believed in it.

The Beach Boys may not have a ton of new information that diehard fans don’t already know. Whether you know a little or a lot, the film nicely puts the band’s career and influence into perspective.

out of four

The Beach Boys is rated PG-13 for drug material, brief strong language, and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan