Genius, directed by Michael Grandage, has been a critical and box office flop, so it was no surprise that it had a very short stay in Winnipeg. If it hadn’t been for a computer glitch, we would have missed our chance to see it, which would have been a shame, because it was well worth watching on the big screen (the beautiful, stylized period cinematography was one of the best things about the film, though many critics found it too drab).
Genius, based on the A. Scott Berg biography, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, recounts the story of New York book editor Max Perkins (played by Colin Firth) during an incredibly busy time in his life (late 1920’s - early 1930’s) as he worked with the eccentric writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). Wolfe was a prolific writer whose massive volumes needed some very serious editing work. To the indignation of Perkins’s wife, Louise (Laura Linney) and Wolfe’s partner and patron, Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), Perkins and Wolfe became almost inseparable for years at a time as the process of this editing took place.
Cameo-style appearances occur with F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West), whose novels were also edited by Perkins. Those appearances (clichéd as they might be) are examples of a number of standout scenes and magical moments in Genius. Unfortunately, the film is not as good as the sum of its parts. For me, the film’s mistake was spending too much time on Wolfe and on the cumbersome editing project rather than on Perkins and his relationships. Firth’s performance was wonderful (as usual) and the story about the brilliant, kind and generous editor was much more interesting and inspiring than the story of the self-absorbed Wolfe. This wasn’t helped by a performance from Law that was rather over-the-top (though he was generally a good casting choice; it’s interesting that this American story about American people was made in the UK with mostly British and Australian actors).
Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching Genius much more than most critics and give it a very solid ***, verging on ***+. My mug is up.