It takes a lot to be considered “a genius”. Like, for instance, an overlong novel.
Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) has published and help edit a lot of books, some of which, are revered classics. Perkins had already previously published works by the great American writers Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce), both of whom have all sorts of riches to their name. Now, a young writer by the name of Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), wants his shot at getting his work published. And once Perkins sees what Wolfe has to offer, he’s absolutely astonished; not only is the work great, interesting, and exciting, but it’s quite long. Obviously, people aren’t going to want to read a 500+ page book, which means that it’s up to Perkins and Wolfe to come together and figure out what should stay, and what can go away. While Wolfe loves his work too much to let every little detail be taken out of the text, he eventually learns to shut up and give in, even if he, nor his girlfriend, Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), are all too happy about it. Then again, neither is Perkins, which makes him constantly battle himself, as well as his wife (Laura Linney), who has stuck with him through the thick and thin.
In case you couldn’t tell by its title, Genius thinks very highly of its subjects – or more importantly, it thinks very highly about Thomas Wolfe and all of the literature that he has brought to the world. There’s no problem with that, either; Look Homeward, Angel, while overlong, is definitely a book worth reading, if only once, just to say that you did and well, you did get into some sort of trance because of it. However, being too petrified of the lengths of his other books, I’ve always strayed further and further away from Wolfe’s work; I know that he’s a literary genius and very well-loved in that world, but honestly, it’s just too scary for me.
Then again, Genius is a movie that’s all about the fact that Wolfe himself couldn’t take himself away from making his books way longer than they had any right to be. And in a way, there’s something exciting about watching as an author gets their writing dissected, toyed around with, and prodded by someone who is, essentially, just trying to make a quick dime off of it. That same conflict actually comes up an awful lot in Genius; the choice between loving a piece of work for all that it is, or trying to take the things you love about it and make it more accessible to people who are willing to pay for it.
What do you do?
Well, Genius has that discussion a few times and asks those questions, yet, never seems too interested in ever answering them, which is a problem from the very start, as it seems like director Michael Grandage and writer John Logan love Wolfe so much, that they aren’t able to focus on much else. They want to make the movie about the book-editing process and all of the pain and agony that comes with killing your darlings, but also, give a shout-out to the man himself for the pieces of writing that he graced the world with.
Once again, is there any problem with that? Once again, not really. However, there’s also something to be said for a movie that can never quite figure out what it wants to be; while it wants to hold a magnifying glass up to Wolfe and his persona, the movie never makes much of a strong judgement on him, either. It actually shows that, in between all of his drinking, smoking and sexxing around, he was just a brilliant writer who couldn’t help himself and, darn it, his work should have been left the way it was!
It’s actually quite odd and, by the same token, annoying. Genius has all of the right elements to be a very good movie, not just about Wolfe, but the writing-process and book-selling business as well, but it kind of misses its mark to do so, in favor of just featuring Wolfe running around, yelling like a crazy man, and holding his hat in his hand, with Perkins just sitting by, smiling and chuckling to himself.
Once or twice is fine, but practically the whole, entire movie? Oh, come on!
And it’s a bit of a shame, too, because the cast is pretty damn stacked. Firth is fine as Perkins, if only because he does a lot of sitting around and staring, as opposed to speaking and letting people hear his terrible American accent (which was shown-off to even worse affect in Devil’s Knot); Laura Linney doesn’t get to do much as his wife, except just stand around and berate him for doing his job; Nicole Kidman has a couple of good scenes, showing how, slowly, but surely, Aline Bernstein was losing her marbles; and Jude Law, well, let’s just say he does probably everything that was asked of him and it was the wrong thing to do.
However, I can’t hate on Law for doing what he was told; the script called on for someone to constantly be howling and acting wild, and it’s what he gives. In a way, there’s some joy to be had in watching him play it to the rafters with this performance, but after awhile, once we figure out that there’s not much more to him than just that, it can get draining. The movie attempts to show us a deeper, darker side to this persona of his, but it still features him yelling and howling about, which never seems to end, or be toned-down in the slightest. If anything, it made me want to watch something like Dom Hemingway again, where Jude Law got a chance to play it wild and over-the-top, yet, was also rewarded in the end.
Here, he’s just doing it because that’s what he was told to do and there’s no real pay-off for him, or in this case, for Wolfe, either.
Consensus: Genius has a fine cast that helps the sometimes boring material, actually work, but at the same time, still feels like it can’t make up its mind about itself, nor have anything interesting to say about its figures.
5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire