Genius

geniusGrowing up in small town Asheville, North Carolina, we didn’t have many famous people we could claim. But the great writer Thomas Wolfe was ours. So when they made a movie about him, we had to see it. Genius isn’t just about Wolfe (Jude Law) though. Adapted from “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg, the film looks at Wolfe’s relationship with Perkins (Colin Firth), the editor who had an out-sized role in crafting his masterpieces and was his closest friend. Given the subject matter, the film should have been a lot better.

It’s mid-1920’s and Wolfe has left boring little Asheville behind for a stab at his dream in the big city of New York. And he has been writing prodigiously and getting turned down by publishers all over town. But Perkins sees something in his writing that no one else has. And he is able to help Wolfe turn his 1000 single-spaced pages into the best selling “Look Homeward Angel.” Watching writers write or editors edit is not the stuff of drama, so the film also looks at Wolfe’s relationships – with Perkins and his sweet family, and with his mistress Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) who is 20 years his senior (though you really don’t see Kidman as that much older than Law.) Bernstein develops a serious case of jealousy over Wolfe’s time with Perkins and acts like a shrew about it, and you never understand them as a couple. Also thrown into the mix for some name-dropping context are a couple of Perkins’s other writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pierce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West). genius2

For those of us who grew up in Asheville, Wolfe’s accent is sooooo wrong. It’s one of those Hollywood Southern accents that always annoy me. Why couldn’t they call me? I’d have been happy to coach Jude! I did get use to it after a while, but… The casting of the film was also strange. Wolfe was 6′ 7″ and dark haired. I like Jude Law, but wasn’t there anyone they could cast who was physically a bit closer to the real man? And were no American actors available for all those American roles? At the end of the movie I thought the filmmakers could have used a Max Perkins to take this big basket of scenes and find the story in it. The film is very uneven, overacted in places, trying to cover too many things at once, and ultimately losing what could have been a great film in the process. So sad. I think I might read the A. Scott Berg book though.

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