The Beach Boys: The Definitive Look at America’s Band

Rock and roll band The Beach Boys perform onstage in circa 1964 in California. (L-R) Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Brian Wilson, Mike Love. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

While The Beach Boys are worthy of a Beatles Anthology-length documentary, Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny’s new film is definitive as it gets.

G-d only knows what we’d be like without The Beach Boys. For one, it’s highly likely that The Beatles would never have recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For this to happen, the California band had to record Pet Sounds. Capitol Records wasn’t a fan and didn’t promote it so it didn’t go gold or platinum until the 1990s. In any event, they were in England when John Lennon and Paul McCartney wanted to listen to Pet Sounds, which is how they responded to Rubber Soul. Call it a creative rivalry–thankfully, there’s archival audio of Paul McCartney in the film–but the two bands only made each other better. It isn’t lost on me that Disney+ is releasing a Beatles doc and a Beach Boys doc this month. The creative rivalry and competition continues!

My introduction to The Beatles came with the aforementioned The Beatles Anthology on ABC in 1995. It’s safe to say that my first real introduction to The Beach Boys came around the same time. A greatest hits album, 20 Good Vibrations: Greatest Hits Volume 1, was one of the earlier non-Beatles albums in my CD collection. The film quickly became one of my most anticipated films as soon as I heard about it. While I could have watched a watermarked screener ahead of the Disney+ launch, I opted for the special IMAX screening on Monday night. Let me tell you, this is a film that plays so beautifully on an IMAX screen? Their music has never sounded better and there are just over 40 Beach Boys songs in the film!

The big question is how do you make a film about The Beach Boys and give audiences new material? Malcolm Leo’s 1985 film, The Beach Boys: An American Band, is one of the more notable docs to be made about them. Obviously, we get new interviews with the surviving members and archival footage featuring the late Dennis and Carl Wilson. But after that, how do you make a new doc while setting it apart from what’s come before. This is where Marshall, Zimny, and company work their magic. While the band had their 50th anniversary tour back in 2012, there’s nothing about that in the film. In fact, the storytelling aspect of it ends around the early 1980s, a few years before Dennis Wilson’s tragic drowning. We get so much new footage that has never been seen before.

There’s a good focus here on the multi-part harmonies and how they came together. It cannot be said enough that Brian Wilson is a musical genius. He could hear the music in his head and while it could make recordings rather stressful, the end results are phenomenal. Brian’s mental health issues would prevent him touring so he would be busy writing songs and working with The Wrecking Crew. The band could come band from touring and only work on recording vocals. Sure, it takes all the fun out of writing and rehearsing new albums but it is what it is. Many songs are by Brian and Mike Love but every now and then, Brian would write music with another lyricist.

(L-R) Al Jardine, David Marks, Frank Marshall, Brian Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston attend the world premiere of Disney+ documentary "The Beach Boys" at the TLC Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California on May 21, 2024.
(L-R) Al Jardine, David Marks, Frank Marshall, Brian Wilson, Blondie Chaplin, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston attend the world premiere of Disney+ documentary “The Beach Boys” at the TLC Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California on May 21, 2024. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

Marshall and Zimny give the film something of a chronological focus. It more or less ends around 1980, a few years after the release of the 1974 compilation album, Endless Summer. Interestingly, Capitol Records released the album shortly after American Graffiti became a hit. Anyway, the album gave them a second life and paved the way for selling out stadiums and arenas by playing to the 8-80 audience. But let’s face it, you’re probably fan of The Beach Boys because of their music up until Pet Sounds. Maybe even because of Full House–there are no clips in the film! Aside from “Good Vibrations,” their music gets more experimental during the transition from the late 1960s into the 1970s. Every now and then, there’s a gem in their discography. Capitol Records really did them dirty by releasing Best of The Beach Boys in 1966 rather than promote Pet Sounds.

Seeing the reunion at the end of the film made it all worth it. Before that happened, you could sense the hurt in Mike Love’s comments about not talking to Brian Wilson in a number of years. The two were so close growing up and their friendship fell apart over the years–the two faced off legally because Love never got his fair share of their royalties when Murry Wilson sold off the publishing catalog. There was also a lawsuit over Brian’s first memoir. Could anyone blame him for having sour feelings at the time? I certainly would not. But anyway, just seeing them together at the end of the film brought about tears of joy. I only wish that Dennis and Carl were alive to share in the moment.

The credits give an extra special thanks to Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road director Brent Wilson (no relation). He directed the 2021 documentary and since watching the film on Tuesday night, I’ve confirmed with co-director Frank Marshall that “Brent was very helpful with doing the interview with Brian.” For those of you who are unfamiliar, Brian Wilson was recently diagnosed with dementia and while there are recent interviews, a good majority of his on-screen comments and voiceovers come from previous interviews. This isn’t to say anything of journalists finding it challenging to interview the genius musician in the past. If not for the involvement of Jason Fine, who knows how the 2021 documentary would have turned out.

While it will be tough to not get up and dance to their songs, The Beach Boys is a celebration of America’s Band through both their ups and downs. The million-dollar question: how will surviving members of The Beatles manage to top this?

DIRECTORS: Frank Marshall and Thom Zimny
SCREENWRITER: Mark Monroe
FEATURING: Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, David Marks, Bruce Johnston, Carl Wilson (archive), Dennis Wilson (archive), Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford, Josh Kun, Lindsey Buckingham, Don Randi, Janelle Monáe, Ryan Tedder, Don Was, Blondie Chaplin, Ricky Fataar

Disney+ will release The Beach Boys on May 24, 2024. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.