Michael Grandage, UK/USA
Maxwell Perkins is generally considered to be one of the most important literary editors of the early 20th century. He brought the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway to the fore of American literature at a time when many publishers found them too modern and crude. Genius follows Perkins’ (Colin Firth) complicated relationship with the undisciplined genius Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) as they struggle to edit Wolfe’s first two novels, Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River.
While Wolfe seems to have been an interesting character, there is not much analysis in this movie about the reasoning behind his behavior. No deep looks at his childhood and the development of his writing, nor even much discussion about his revolutionary writing. The focus is small, mostly taking place in Perkins’ office and comprised of conversations about editing Wolfe’s extremely verbose manuscripts. There is a reason why films usually focus on artists rather than the people who work behind the scenes to make them famous. Artists tend to live wild and difficult lives, which, while tragic, is good material for an entertaining film. A story framed through the eyes of a good, calm, family man is not nearly as interesting as one of an egotistical eccentric who still manages to produce beautiful, important works, and that is the crux of the problem with Genius. It isn’t a bad film, just not a particularly compelling one. Pair this with some wonky accents on the part of both Firth and Law, and bouts of extreme overacting, and Genius falls flat.