Genius – Review by Liz Casanova



By Liz Casanova

Starring Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Guy Pearce

Written by A. Scott Berg (based on the book by) and John Logan (screenplay)

Directed by Michael Grandage

Running time 1h 44min

MPAA Rating PG-13

Selig Film Rating Cable

When cantankerous writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) strolls into Max Perkins' (Colin Firth) office, it absolutely rocks the editor's quiet world.

Genius is the film based on the novel by A. Scott Berg. Berg studied the great American writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway until he found editor Max Perkins, the man in the shadows responsible for discovering the writers. Genius focuses specifically on Perkins and novelist Thomas Wolfe (Look Homeward, Angel).

After countless rejection from the publishing industry, Wolfe hits the jackpot when his manuscript lands on Perkins' desk. Perkins is the editor at Charles Scribner's Sons and knows that Wolfe's writing has a special quality similar to Fitzgerald and Hemingway. His suspicions are confirmed when Wolfe appears like a magician with a secret. The relationship quickly becomes more than businesslike as Perkins becomes platonically enamored. 

The relationship offers a peek at the world during that enchanted era. Who has a better seat to the table of the minds of these great writers than the editor? Perkins is overwhelmed by the Wolfe's obsession with preserving every word, thus highlighting the dichotomy of the roles of writer versus editor. Perkins stresses the importance of quality in a scene where he describes why every word matters.

No doubt Wolfe is a great writer. But he also has that special quality of self marketing, thanks to his outlandish personality. He has a way of making everything he says seem larger than life. It is hard for observers not to get sucked in. Unfortunately, his love interest, the costume designer Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), is eventually tormented by his eccentricities. Soon, Perkins' other relationships start suffering too as he spends the majority of his time assisting in perfecting Wolfe's work. 

Overall, Genius has plenty of substance as a film. The actors are the best in the industry, the cinematography is nice, the script is perfect and the story is tidy without being too obnoxious. It should receive a perfect score. However, it is not a groundbreaking or an overly impressive film. There is something missing, and I think it's an element of risk, specifically from the actors. Maybe that's the curse of being the best, everything starts to descend into film mediocrity. Yes, Firth is brilliant. But isn't he always brilliant playing these stoic characters that overcome their insecurities? Isn't Kidman always spot on embodying characters that are a bit psychotic because of their artistic circumstances? And couldn't the casting directors pick an actual American to play Wolfe?

What really glues the film together are the smaller supporting characters: Zelda Fitzgerald (Vanessa Kirby), Perkins' wife Louise (Laura Linney), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West). I ended up yearning to know more about them. 

I'm not discouraging a watch, but wait for it to stream or the DVD. Meanwhile, if you want to see a gem of a film that pulls the curtain on the writers and artists of the 1920s, see Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris

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