Genius (2016)

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

As a writer, few films about authors have ever resonated with me, but this one captures perfectly the struggle between an author and his editor. The endless line edits, the quarrels over word choices, unnecessary paragraphs, metaphors and purple prose instead of plain speech. And it does so without ever becoming boring.

 

Max Perkins (Colin Firth) goes to work every day in his battered fedora, and chips away at words: thousands of them. He underlines in red, he writes in the margins, and he enriches the lives of his writers with every scribble and line. But Max has a secret: he is an excellent editor, under whose hand such masterful writers as Fitzgerald and Hemingway thrived... but he is an even better friend. And then one day, someone drops a massive tome on his desk. It's thousands of pages. Millions of words. No one else has gotten past the first chapter. But Max cracks it open. He reads it at the desk. He reads it on the train. He reads it at home while his wife (Laura Linney) and daughters try to get his attention.

 

The manuscript belongs to Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law), an eccentric, vivacious character who is just floored when Max says, "We want to publish your book." And as the men quibble over those endless words, hacking hundreds of pages off one painful argument at a time, while Wolfe clings to his purple prose and tries to convince Thomas that yes, indeed, these words are his friends, and he needs every one... they become friends. Max finds the son he always wanted. Wolfe finds a mentor. And then something happens neither man expects: success. Another book, this one even longer. Can their friendship survive the slaughter of a million words?

 

It's a challenge to film a story about a writer and editor, but this screenplay is a masterful work. It may have resonated with me simply because I have played both the role of writer and editor many times in the past, or because I felt a sense of kinship in Thomas Wolfe's desperate, workaholic tendencies with words. Or it may simply be a good story. It's based on a real life friendship, and from what I've read of the book, it captures the dynamics of these men nicely. But, it's not an easy film to watch. Amid the glorious editing sequences, the purple prose, the struggle to find "the heart of the story" lies a deeply unhealthy, egocentric man who breaks everyone's heart that he touches. And that is hard to stomach. Law gives a terrific, if manic, performance as the starry-eyed writer whose moods shift with the wind, from appreciation to resentment; whose careless interaction with people leaves them devastated. Nichole Kidman plays his bitter mistress, a woman who laments that Max is his "new muse."

 

There are brief appearances from Fitzgerald and Hemingway, little glimpses into their lives; raw emotional diatribes between arrogant writers. Gorgeous costumes. And many emotional strides. The first half of the film is touching and intense; the second half, more melancholy and bitter. It can be depressing, but it does end on a happy note... and it might inspire you to read more about the real Max Perkins, a remarkable man in his own right. Due to Max, and his determination to stifle no writer's voice, we have some of the most colorful classics of the former generation, including The Great Gatsby.

     
Sexual Content:
A man is having an affair with a married woman; references to that affair. He hits on beautiful women at a bar, and makes comments about their physical bodies.
 
Language:
Half a dozen abuses of Jesus' name / GD, other profanities and insults.
 
Violence:
A fistfight.

 
Other:
The main character displays increasingly selfish, rude, insensitive behavior toward others, which can be hard to watch.


Related Products

Books

Fiction & Nonfiction

Costume Dramas

TV & Movie Reviews

Femnista

FREE Literature, History & Film Webzine

Blog Posts

Digging Deeper into Culture