Writing is sometimes a completely torturous undertaking, even something as simple as a movie review like this one. Putting your thoughts, dreams, wishes, opinions and angry tangents on paper for someone else to hopefully read is at times a bit taxing but for an emerging writer it can make or break what you are trying to do with your life. Then there’s the added stress of handing it into an editor for them to give the full plastic surgery treatment to that body of work that you put a certain amount of blood, sweat and ears into as you seek that certain perfection that any writer aspires to hold. That editor nips, tucks, sucks out the fat and gives a face lift to your piece of work until you hear those lovely words, it’s good to publish. Then you wring your hands waiting to see what people think or if anyone will even read it at all, let alone give you feedback and a review. I know I may have lost some people by lumping myself into the “writer” category but I still feel this stress a lot and this is a partial element to the new film, Genius.
The film comes from first time feature director Michael Grandage, a man known in England as a theatre director with his own company he’s been running since 2011. For his debut outing on the big screen, he weaves a true story about the collaborative relationship between the impassioned minds that created some of the greatest American literature still being focused on in schools and the one man who streamlined those works to become bestselling books in stores. It was ambitious in scope for Grandage to take on this 1920s era film but more than the aged and monochromatic look of the film, this movie would be driven solely by its lead performances.
Colin Firth stars as Max Perkins, a dutiful editor working for Charles Scribner’s Sons publishing company in New York City. Perkins is very successful with his work on books like The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms being the notable big ones. A challenge presents itself when a flustered young writer named Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) enters his office and drops his massive manuscript on his desk, one that had been turned down by every other publisher in the country leaving him to be in the borderline, depressive state that he meets Max in. Seeing the opportunity to bring another literary giant to the masses, Max agrees to bring the book to reality.
The two turn the manuscript into a bestseller called Look Homeward, Angel, which makes Tom the talk of the town and deepens the friendship between him and Max.This also serves to drive a wedge between Tom and his lover, an older stage actress named Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), being that all of his time is spent working on the book with Max. This divide deepens as Tom and Max begin work on his new book, a rough draft that has to be whittled down from its mountainous five thousand pages. The book may cause a bigger problem with everyone in Tom’s life as his newfound fame and praise may be having damaging effects on his bloated ego.
Jude Law is an actor that, for years, was very hit or miss with me as I had a hard time finding him likeable. The same could be said about his portrayal of Thomas Wolfe in his introduction into the film but as the friendship between him and Max starts to bloom, I began to soften to Law’s performance as he really seemed to be drinking in everything around him. Firth’s opposite performance was a very neat counterpart as Max is really, for a large portion of the first and second act, reactionary and solid in his role as the written word middle man of sorts. It’s when he finally does have something that bubbles to the surface, we hear the brilliance that he usually uses to go through other people’s words.
As I said, the look of this film is pretty flat and, besides the marvel of a growing and emerging big city of New York sprawling behind them in the outdoor scenes of the film, the draw is these top two actors playing off each other from the John Logan (Skyfall) script. The other performances seem to completely pale in comparison, Kidman not rising much above Jude Law’s exuberance and the usually great Laura Linney as Max’s supportive playwright wife is almost a wallflower in this one. It’s not a big detraction away from the movie but it was notable.
Yes, this movie seems to greatly avoid the issues of the time, like the war and the depression, which is fleetingly mentioned by Wolfe when his first book hits the big time, but this is really just about the relationship between the two men and what that effect would be on them personally, very self contained. The other big moments for me was to see the heavyweights like F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and one scene with Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West), two authors that fantastically intrigue me. I feel that any English Lit major or book worm will totally gravitate to a movie like Genius, just don’t expect anything like politics or social commentary to be something involved with a biopic like this. I give this one a three out of five.