Genius, starring Jude Law and Colin Firth opened this week to a rousing 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews have been pretty mixed with critics neither really loving it or hating it. For me it didn’t matter. I see anything Jude Law is in – not matter how good or how bad and there have been some really bad ones (Alfie and All the Kings Men remakes in particular). I love his acting. I even saw him starring in Hamlet on Broadway, which by the way was brilliant. At any rate, the critics seemed pretty split and the ones that didn’t love the movie seemed to hone in on the almost over the top Broadway Play type acting – especially by Law. They also thought it was somewhat boring and questioned that there were so many British/Australian actors playing quintessential Americans which made for some peculiar accents.
Law plays Thomas Wolfe and Colin Firth, his editor Max Perkins. I knew nothing about Wolfe before seeing the movie and I haven’t read any of his books. Wolfe was a prodigious writer and the first novel he wrote (Look Homeward Angel) was immense in size when placed upon Perkins desk for review. Perkins, length not withstanding, found something great in the writing and agreed to publish it. This began a long and deep relationship with Wolfe. There were moments of comedy in the film while Perkins worked relentlessly to shorten the books which helped with the drollness of an Editor marking up a manuscript with a red pen. Together, Perkins and Wolfe achieved some success with two novels before Wolfe prematurely died of Tuberculosis of the brain at the age of 37.
The relationship between the two main characters is clearly the focus of the movie with the rest of the actors playing minor roles. Laura Linney as Perkin’s wife; Nicole Kidman as Wolfe’s mistress, Dominic West as Hemingway and Guy Pearce as Fitzgerald. Perkins was also the editor for the latter two writers who weren’t totally enamored with Wolfe. If we are to believe the portrayal by Law, Wolfe was a larger than life character who went deep into his relationships and then abandoned wives, mistresses and friends leaving them devastated – including Perkins. He, was, however, a creative “Genius”; Perkins was an editorial “Genius” in addition to a “Genius” at “friendships” – and now you know the layered meaning of the title.
I found the film kept my interest although I did doze off in the middle for a bit. It did remind me somewhat of a play. The Director is from the stage and Law has spent a great deal of time doing plays so it is not surprising that we saw stage- like performances from them although I wasn’t as distracted by this as some of the critics. Is this going to win an Oscar? No. Is it worth seeing? I’d say yes. Perhaps the critics just don’t like their editors and took it out in their reviews of Genius. For me, I am now going to try a Thomas Wolfe novel which I think is an important positive measure of the movie. What do you think is the best one to read? I must admit, I’m leaning toward the shortest – Look Homeward Angel.