Before Star Trek Beyond, Jason Bourne, and Ghostbusters all roll into theaters, let’s review a smaller film – a historical British drama – Genius.
IMDb summary: A chronicle of Max Perkins’s time as the book editor at Scribner, where he oversaw works by Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others.
- I have told you many times that I’m a fan of British contemporary cinema, so I was really excited to see its newest creation. Moreover, I am an English literature student, so the picture’s topic peaked my interest even more. The authors of The Lost Generation are among my favorites, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. However, I have to admit that, before seeing this film, I was not familiar with the works of Thomas Wolfe. I don’t think that he is as famous as the other two writers, whose works were edited by Perkins. Maybe the length of the novels or their hard subject matter are to blame or maybe I’m just making stuff up. Either way, after seeing and enjoying Genius, I will definitely try reading Look Homeward, Angel as well as Of Time and The River.
- Genius’s script was written by John Logan (who is responsible for masterpieces such as Gladiator, The Aviator and Hugo and other pictures like Skyfall and Spectre), based on a book/a true story Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. I did enjoy the writing for the film but I also had problems with it. Nevertheless, if these so called problems or gripes that I had with the plot are historically accurate, I don’t really have a right to complain. I liked the juxtaposition of the rational editor vs. the passionate writer. I enjoyed the literature references (‘War and Nothing?’) as well as the hints to the broader discussion of family vs. career and originality vs. self-discipline. The ideas regarding the role of the editor were also interesting – I do find the question whether the editor changes the book or makes it better rather interesting. In addition, whether the editor should be a ghost in the shadows or a visible part of the book, are both intriguing concepts to explore. The biggest problem/gripe I had with the writing was the character development – I felt that I did not find out enough about any of them and I also always felt that the bodies on screen were characters and not real people who have come to life. This might be the fault of the actors or the direction that the director took.
- Speaking about directing, this was the cinematic directorial debut for a Tony-winning theater director Michael Grandage. I think that he allowed or asked the actors to go a bit over the top – the overacting was obvious. The color palette of the film was weird as well – neither colorful nor colorless – just kinda bland. I wish he would have made a clearer and stronger statement with the visuals, as he should be very skilled in that aspect, having worked with limited spaces of the stage. I also wish that he would have used the setting of Tthe Jazz Era and The Great Depression a bit more – both of these cultural and social epochs were only hinted at in a few scenes. The editing was also kinda uneven – some scenes ended without being resolved or fully explored. I did enjoy the montage where the characters were editing the second book – it was an efficient filmmaking technique, plot-wise. In the end, I did enjoy the film but didn’t get enough info from it. Then again, it’s a biographical drama and not a documentary.
- The main roles of the film were played by Colin Firth (King’s Speech, Kingsman, Magic in the Moonlight) as Maxwell Perkins and Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes, Anna Karenina, Road to Perdition) as Thomas Wolfe. I liked their performances, though questioned the slight overacting that Law did. The again, Wolfe was a passionate and energetic person. Nonetheless, the lack of energy on Firth’s side and the too much of everything on Law’s side made them into an odd pair. But maybe that was the point – they had contrasting personalities, but their friendship, although complex, difficult and straining, was indeed transformative and rewarding. However, the question remains, would Wolfe have succeeded without Perkins? He talked about legacy and he even blamed Perkins for changing his manuscripts too much, but they did remain friends until Wolfe’s death.
- Other supporting roles were played by Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge!, The Hours, The Paperboy) as Aline Bernstein, Dominic West (Testament of Youth, Money Monster) as Ernest Hemingway, Guy Pearce (Memento, Iron Man 3) as F. Scott Fitzgerald. I didn’t like Kidman’s character at all – Bernstein was portrayed as quite a jealous and stereotypical woman. The scene with the gun was way too much. The again, maybe Bernstein was such a person. West’s portrayal of Hemingway was great – although he only had a single scene, his ironic lines about Wolfe were marvelous. The scenes with Pearce were also great – I really liked the juxtaposition of Fitzgerald and Wolfe.
In short, Genius, sadly, was not a genial film. I think that fans of English/American literature will enjoy, while casual cinema goers won’t miss out on much if they skip it.
Trailer: Genius trailer