Genius Review – An Inspiration, Literary Magic

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Genius, from Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions, presents the story of the literary world’s unsung hero, the editor, and in this case the story Max Perkins, the celebrated editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and an unknown Thomas Wolfe.

Directed by Michael Grandage, Genius stars Jude Law, Colin Firth, Laura Linney and Nicole Kidman with Guy Pearce and Dominic West. Genius is based on the novel, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg and was adapted for the screen by John Logan.

Genius opens in rainy New York City, and a chain smoking Thomas Wolfe, played by Jude Law, standing looking at the Charles Scribner & Son’s Publishers name painted on the side of the building. Soon, a colleague walks into the office of famed editor, William Maxwell Evarts Perkins, known by Max to all, asking if he would read, as a courtesy to Aline Bernstein, played by Nicole Kidman, a known Broadway set/costume designer.

With a sigh of yet another courtesy read, Max adds “Is it at least double spaced?” He unties the bundle of single spaced words and voice over begins and the audience sees the enraptured Max, reading from his New York City office, through the maze of city streets into Grand Central through the terminal to board his train home.

Never pausing as his walk is as habitual as his ever present hat, Max reads, the words of the unknown Wolfe, read in voice over by a Southern accented Jude Law, suddenly home in New Canaan, to a houseful of activity, wife playwright Louise, played by Laura Linney, and five stair-step girls all in the throes of the moment, walking through the house he finds his private space inside a closet and reads continuing to read, he finally finishes.

The next day bursting into the office, an exuberant and positive of rejection Thomas Wolfe, without allowing Max a word, he launches in a soliloquy of preferred rejection and heartfelt appeal for tenderness on his well-worn soul as others have sent well-crafted letters that line his wall and he begins to recite to the amusement of Perkins, who stops the poor soul before he launches into yet another round of rejection preambles, with the words every writer longs to hear, “We intend to Publish you.”

Without pausing as time does not allow for another lengthy expression of joy from the clearly literate Wolfe who has words for every occasion, words stored up for moments such as this, this moment that he has believed and known. The words, he had ready, cut short by, “I’m sure our standard advance will be sufficient.”

Suddenly Wolfe is a signed author. Signed by the very editor that ushered in the careers of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway, suddenly Thomas Wolfe was a contemporary of this great American writers. Rushing home to the apartment he shared with Bernstein, he is in the stratosphere and the two celebrate.

As anyone who has dreamt of the day when the creative pursuit would be recognized and considered valuable, the work begins as the publisher wants to begin to prepare the works for publication. The business side of publishing is just that and as Genius plays out we find out Thomas Wolfe is quite voluminous in his expressions.

Just as Max asks him to begin on the novel, he arrives with it. Asking for help, they carry a crate of papers, neatly bound, some typed, mostly in pencil written on scrap pieces of paper. Wide eyed, Wolfe explains it’s here. All for you, the magic editor to make sense and prepare it one a neatly bound publishable work.

Suddenly, with a first novel of more than 1000 pages, “Look Homeward, Angel” would take more than a year to edit. And god love them, the office typists took the pages and suddenly the scrapes were appearing in neatly double spaced type.

The time that elapsed between the arrival of the first crate of papers and the finished, edited and renamed, manuscript brought the two men closer. Max, a man with five loving daughters, had a son, someone who loved the written word as much as he did, who cherished the ability to craft sentences who could carry an intellectual conversation and Wolfe had a believer. If life left them at that point the relationship would be lifelong, forever binding simply due to belief.

Genius doesn’t end at this moment as with most relationships, boundaries are tested and this is no different. Wolfe becomes, in a short time, everything he believed he would become. He is recognized, positively reviewed, in demand. Those who aided his climb are now the hindrance that he believes keep him from heights.

I truly enjoyed Genius. I left the screening inspired. Suddenly prose came alive and the thirsts for great literature, even literary conversation was alive again.

The ensemble cast of Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Laura Linney are exceptional and it clicks as one would expect. They seamlessly bring these larger than life characters to the screen.

Genius is pure genius! A delight to watch. It is more than a historical piece of the turn of the century in Great American Literature, the rise in screenwriting, the conversations with Hemingway and the cantankerous receptions these three iconic novelists gave each other is one of the humorous moments in the film.

Kidman, once again, adds eloquence and style to a damaged soul. She portrays the wounds of a literary (production) widow and the life she left for love effortlessly. The women behind these two legendary giants needed to be as strong. And as Kidman walked the fine line, Linney’s character was an immovable rock, with five daughters. The two characters are both opposite and alike.  

Be inspired! Take a trip through early New York history. Enjoy literature. See Genius!

Genius opens June 10, 2016 in select city with more cities after. Check your local listings.

Image courtesy of Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions and used with permission.

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