Sometimes life is blatantly unfair. Regardless of whatever forces converge, often determining what and how things were set in motion proves difficult, if not downright impossible. Hold that thought.
When the new movie releases didn’t look all that promising, and remnants of Halloween failed to scare up interest, I turned to Amazon Prime and stumbled on a film that features three of my favorite actors: Colin Firth, Jude Law, and Nicole Kidman. “Genius” hit the big screen in 2016 to little fanfare and no big awards. How did that happen?
“Genius” is a literary film about American literary greats and a famous American publishing company’s editor. I don’t know the politics of movie awards, but the director and the three leading actors of this film are not Americans. Director Michael Grandage’s background comes from the British stage, a fact that gives the film a sophisticated tone. Would this British invasion be enough to derail recognition? Jude Law, in particular, should have had big accolades. They failed to come. If you’re a Jude Law fan, dial “Genius” up on your Amazon account.
Genius” celebrates the incredible career of Schribner’s and Sons Publishing editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) whose heavy-handed editor’s pen changed the literary world in the early 1920s and 30s. Although the expanse of Perkins’s career was long, “Genius” focuses on the tumultuous relationship between Perkins and writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law).
As a man with literary wins that have gone on to become beloved American classics by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, the reserved Perkins has the esteem of his peers across the country.
Then life becomes more complicated. His relationship with the fiery Wolfe has dramatic intensity and emotion. Jude Law’s portrayal of the North Carolina writer draws deep on all of Law’s expansive talents. Law doesn’t just play Wolfe, he clearly transforms himself to capture the essence of Wolfe’s brilliance as a writer and his flaws as a human being.
Relationships between an editor and writer can be complicated, and the one between Wolfe and Perkins hinges on one main conflict: Wolfe’s proclivity to write too much. Carving a document that’s thousands of words longer than the laws of common sense and popular publishing allow, Perkins refuses to back off from his stance. After Wolfe’s first novel Look Homeward, Angel earns money and critical acclaim, the public starts to credit Perkins for shaping Wolfe’s genius.
The defining and complicated elements of their relationship create more drama as Wolfe abandons their friendship and professional relationship for greener pastures. Wolfe’s long-time lover Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) knows first-hand about Wolfe’s ability to destroy relationships, and she tries to warn Perkins.
The outcome of the film comes to the final tragic moments of Wolfe’s life in a perfectly balanced scene that takes your breath away. “Genius” is one of those rare films that qualifies as a work of genius.
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive content.
Marilyn Robitaille writes film reviews for the Stephenville Empire-Tribune and the Glen Rose Reporter.