DVD Review: Genius
By John Corrado
★★★½ (out of 4)
Based on a true story, Genius recounts the unlikely friendship that developed between book editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) and young author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), as the two worked together on the classic novels Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River.
This unique relationship between creator and editor makes up the bulk of Genius, often thrillingly depicting the tumultuous process of how Perkins helped Wolfe trim his mammoth manuscripts into more marketable works, and bestsellers of their time that became sensations of the literary world. The film also explores fascinating questions of whether the work of an editor helps or hinders a writer’s original vision, and if they should both take credit for the finished work.
Thomas Wolfe is portrayed as a tortured genius, a man of wild mood swings and prone to grandiose rants, who writes with the ferocity and energetic force of a man possessed, finding cathartic release through his sprawling, autobiographical prose. Maxwell Perkins is a man of quiet patience, using his red pencil to sharpen the focus on the writer’s work, and to help further unlock the truth found amongst his words. The film also shows how this close and ultimately fraught working relationship between these two men affected their partners, Louise Perkins (Laura Linney) and Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman).
Featuring a nicely written screenplay by John Logan that pays tribute to the poetry and beauty of Thomas Wolfe’s words, and helmed by award-winning stage director Michael Grandage making his film debut, Genius is as handsomely mounted a period piece as they come. This is a film that is in love with the literary world of the 1920s and ’30s, with famed authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West), who all shared an editor in Perkins, existing as supporting characters who appear to give their insight on Wolfe’s success and swelling ego.
The film authentically captures the often unglamorous process of being a writer and getting your work out to an audience that exists behind the excitement and romanticism of the literary world, finding its most exciting moments through scenes of its subjects scribbling furiously on sheets of paper and pouring over manuscripts. The sequences where excerpts from Wolfe’s work are read aloud recognize the beauty of his words, and the film is kept compelling thanks to a pair of gripping performances from its leads.
Colin Firth and Jude Law play off each other brilliantly in Genius, with the former delivering the sort of powerfully understated performance he excels at and has come to be known for, and the latter bringing magnetic energy to his portrayal of Wolfe’s larger than life personality and wild mood swings, now suggesting undiagnosed manic depression. It’s their performances that make Genius especially worth seeing, and the film lingers with an emotional undertow that is emblematic of the literary figures at its heart, ending on a deeply poignant note.
The DVD includes no bonus features.
Genius is an Elevation Pictures release. It’s 104 minutes and rated PG.