Genius isn’t always self-evident, especially when you can tell if it is trying too damn hard. At first glance everything about Genius tells us that it should be a high quality Oscar contender, but instead we get something that undoubtedly reads better on paper then it translates to the screen.
Even on the best of days, friendships are complicated. Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) in his days as an editor at the Scribner Publishing House has had to coddle and coax the best work possible out of the likes of Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald and many others. Enter a young Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), insecure but brilliant it’s up to Perkins to make Wolfe the best that he can possibly be.
While there’s nothing really wrong with Genius on the surface, the problem is that quite frankly…that’s all there is. It’s an interesting story but it skirts along the surface never allowing for any legitimate emotional depth that just ends up being a string of passable and occasionally enjoyable cinematic anecdotes.
In his first time directing for the screen, Michael Grandage is a competent hand but doesn’t quite get the material as alive as it needs to be. We get lots of set pieces with people talking passionately but it’s visually a little dull, only moving where it needs to go. Competent to be sure, but lacking any genuine sense of style. The script from John Logan who adapted it from the novel by A Scott Berg is sadly a little lifeless and focuses on the set pieces to get us through the narrative rather than give us any genuine moments of character an try as they might this loaded cast just can’t make it work.
Colin Firth is settling into to a little too much of a comfort zone with these period dramas and seeing some of the giants of American literature being played out by slew of Brits and Australians is just not quite right. He’s fine as Perkins, but gets drowned out by Jude Law’s Thomas Wolfe who just ends up being boisterous and shouting too much, while Nicole Kidman as Aline Bernstein; Wolfe’s muse, just ended up being wasted in a forgotten role while Laura Linney as Perkins wife felt equally as pointless a role. I would have loved to have seen Perkins interactions with the likes of F Scott Fitzgerald (played by Guy Pearce) during what was a difficult time in his life or with Hemingway (played with genuine bombast by Dominic West) but both characters were wasted to what really doesn’t add up to anything more than an sidebar in the movie.
Ultimately, Genius is an interesting little story about the complicated relationship between editors and writers, but you just can’t help but feel like this story left a little too much on the cutting room floor for it to genuinely resonate with anyone.