It is tough enough making the profession of writing look compelling on screen, but imagine how difficult it is to make the relationship of a writer and his book editor the stuff that dreams are made of? That was the challenge in adapting A. Scott Berg’s seemingly un-cinematic book, Max Perkins: Editor Of Genius to the screen with a John Logan screenplay that focuses on the creative interaction between passionate author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) and world-renowned Scribner and Sons book editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth), the man who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway among others. This colorful period film, including scenes with the latter two played respectively by Guy Pearce and Dominic West, and helmed by theatre director Michael Grandage, sets its sights on exploring the unique collaboration between the dynamic if unpredictable Wolfe and Perkins, who worked months with him honing his work into such masterpieces as “Look Homeward Angel” and “Of Time And The River.”
As I say in my video review (click the link above), ultimately the film becomes a remarkable window into the creation of art showing that it sometimes takes more than one voice. But that’s not all Genius, a remarkably literate film treat (and a rare one), is about. It also explores the personal lives of the two men, with Wolfe involved with a sometimes-unstable married woman named Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), and Perkins’ workaholic ways taking the toll on his own relationship with his wife Louise (Laura Linney), a fine playwright in her own right, and their daughters. Grandage skillfully weaves all of this in and out without ever losing the core of the film which is Wolfe and Perkins.
The cast is one of the year’s best with Firth beautifully understated and nicely balancing the larger than life personality that Law, in his best performance in years, uses in bringing Wolfe to glorious life. Kidman is terrific in a supporting role and Linney keeps proving she can do just about anything. Pearce doesn’t quite make Fitzgerald all that believable, but he has only a handful of scenes and it is tough to flesh out such a complicated man in that small amount of screen time. West, on the other hand, captures Hemingway’s bravado with no problem. It is the rare film that actually makes you want to go back and read a book after it’s over and this one had me wanting to jump right into “Of Time And The River,” as well as Berg’s biography which covers a lot more ground regarding Perkins than they could possibly squeeze into this 104-minute film.
On that note, oddly my favorite Wolfe novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” is not even mentioned here, but when you consider what he was able to achieve before dying at the very young age of 37, this movie stands as a great tribute, not only to the sometimes underappreciated author, but also the man behind the scenes of those literary successes. Logan, Grandage and James Bierman produced the film which Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions began rolling out very slowly last Friday. Expansion should be a no brainer as this movie serves as great counter-programming for discerning adult audiences this summer.
Do you plan to see Genius? Let us know what you think.