Genius Directed by Michael Grandage
Published Jun 16, 2016There are plenty of movies based on books, but much fewer on the actual act of writing itself. There's a reason for that: writing is a quiet, arduous and complicated process, most of it occurring in the creator's mind. It doesn't lend itself well to the visual medium of movies.
That is, unless you're Thomas Wolfe. He wrote on the top of his refrigerator; he used to fill crates with reams of written material. In other words, he was an editor's worst nightmare. The process of bringing his prose to the masses is the subject of Michael Grandage's directorial debut, Genius — a film about the bond between the author and his world-famous editor Max Perkins (played by Colin Firth).
Based on the 1978 National Book Award-winner Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg, Genius tells the story of how the Scribner's editor helped turn Wolfe (played by Jude Law) into one of the defining American authors of the day.
The story is close to the heart of Chicago playwright-turned-Hollywood screenwriter John Logan (his credits include Gladiator, as well as the last two James Bond films). After reading Berg's book in the mid '80s, he developed a friendship with the writer and decided to buy the book outright to turn it into a movie. Thus began a 15-year process of writing and refining between the two writers that, in a lot of ways, mirrors the working relationship of the film's two leads.
Ironically, though, for a film about the process of bringing an author's pages to the press, Genius could have used a few more sets of eyes.
Maybe it's because work began back in the early 2000s, but Genius' script and story seems a bit behind the curve, stuck in a time when period pieces ruled the Oscars. It has an all-star cast (Laura Linney and Nicole Kidman play their romantic partners, while Guy Pearce and Dominic West play F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, respectively), but their penchant for profound statements grows tiring by film's end. Its visuals — a hodgepodge of Depression-era New York City and its even bleaker neighbouring countryside — are equally drab.
Speaking of tiring: This is either Law's worst or best role, depending on which school of acting tickles your fancy. If you think big, wild gestures and over-enunciation equals an award-worthy performance, then Genius is for you, but otherwise, it's a bit of a slog. Conversely, the film's female leads are given little, if anything, to chew on, with Linney playing an underappreciated playwright and mother with little screen time, and Kidman as Wolfe's cold-hearted lover.
During his heyday, Wolfe dreamed of being his generation's Dostoyevsky, and nearly got his wish (though time has mostly forgotten him). Genius, similarly, looks to connect on a larger level, but merely lands a rung above mediocrity.