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Genius (2/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 104 minutes.

OK for children.

You see a film like this with Oscar winners Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman and two time Oscar nominee Jude Law and with characters like Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and purporting to be a biopic of the relationship between novelist Thomas Wolfe (Law, who does have a facial resemblance to Wolfe) legendary Scribners editor Maxwell Perkins (Firth) and you think, “Wow!, I’ve gotta see this!”

How wrong you would be.

Directed by Michael Grandage from a script by John Logan, and based on A. Scott Berg’s 1978 biography, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, this is a drab, dark, slow movie with absolutely no chemistry between or among any of the players. To start, if you blink you miss the appearance of Hemingway, who couldn’t have been on camera for more than one minute total. Fitzgerald is in a few more scenes, although Pearce couldn’t have been on the set more than a couple of days. Hemingway and Fitzgerald have no point in the movie whatsoever, except to lure in an audience, who would probably not be that interested in seeing a movie about Wolfe, who is many steps below Hemingway and Fitzgerald on the scale of interesting lives.

The first thing you see on the screen is the flat statement, “A True Story.” Well, that’s pretty blunt. That would mean that everything in the movie was actually said and done, which is pretty hard to believe. If it is a true story, I certainly feel sorry for Perkins, his wife, Louise (Laura Linney), Wolfe, and his girlfriend, Aline Bernstein (Kidman), because this film pictures them all (well, except the manic Wolfe) as being constantly unhappy.

The film would have us believe that all Perkins did was

  1. sit in his office with his hat on (he never takes it off throughout the whole movie until the end, whether he’s inside or outside; in the only picture I’ve seen of the real Perkins in his office, however, he is hatless) and occasionally cross out words on manuscripts and write things in red,
  2. that Wolfe was a horrible manic-depressive who seemed to be always manic,  because that’s the way Law plays him,
  3. and that Bernstein was a long-suffering lover (in actuality, five years) but stayed in a relationship that, from the movie at least, never gave her any pleasure whatsoever because Wolfe was so quientessentially self-obsessed.

Perkins edited Wolfe’s autobiographical novel (originally called “O Lost”), Look Homeward Angel, but he did so by cutting it drastically. After editing his next book, Of Time and the River, which was more commercially successful, Wolfe dumped Perkins.

The cinematography is not what it could have been for a period piece. While it is in color, it is so drab and the color so washed out that it might as well have been in black & white.

In short, there is nothing exceptional about this film except that it is so unentertaining despite its cast and the characters it covers, who all lived interesting lives, but you couldn’t tell that from this movie.