starring Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, Dominic West and Guy Pearce
screenplay by John Logan
directed by Michael Grandage
Called “Best Seller” in Japan, Genius is about famous Scribners’ editor Max Perkins’ relationship with the author Thomas Wolfe. It starts in 1929 and continues up until the author’s death in 1938, so the film features New York City of that era. It is based on the book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. Perkins is especially famous for nurturing the talents of Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce), who play into the story only marginally. Thomas Wolfe is famous for poetic, effusive, unrestrained, loooooong writing. Genius concentrates on his two novels published by Scribners, Look Homeward, Angel (1929), and Of Time and the River (1935).
Jude Law portrays Wolfe as an alcoholic, or borderline alcoholic in the same vein as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but even more than that as an annoying kind of precocious hillbilly. Kind of a prick, really.
I know Hemingway and Fitzgerald, but I never heard of Thomas Wolfe. I know Tom Wolfe, of course (b. 1931), author of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) and The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987), associated with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Yeah, I know Tom Wolfe. But Thomas Wolfe … ?
Although the film got mediocre reviews I kind of liked it. It is very bookish, about writing, editing and publishing. I dig those. Set in Depression New York it is visually kind of dull to look at, with lots of brown and grey. It’s not a thriller or an action-packed shoot-em-up. Indeed, some reviews suggested the script was more appropriate for the stage than for the screen, and that the talent of actors like Jude Law, Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney was ill-used. But I liked it.
The film raises the issue of the role of editors. How much sway do editors have on literature? And, are they really making books better, or just making them different? Interesting.