Directed by: Michael Grandage
Produced by: James Bierman, Michael Grandage, John Logan and Tracey Seaward
Written by: John Logan
Cast: Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Dominic West and Guy Pearce
Glorifying the life of writers is easy. A writer’s life may sound like meaningless toil at times. But, once a writer acquires greatness, then subsequently their journey to that greatness appears almost ”poetic” afterward. However, the lives of editors don’t share such luxury. A life of an editor is no easy cakewalk. An editor is tasked with finding writing well enough to be published and giving advice to writers on making their work suitable enough to be published. Editors play a great role in bringing great works of literature to the greater public, yet very few films have attempted to shed light on their lives, but 2016’s Genius is one such exception. It focuses on the life of the editor Maxwell Perkins and his tutelage of the overly eccentric writer Thomas Wolfe. Maxwell Perkins was once the famed editor of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, the two great writers who are hallmarks of American literature. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and that era’s troubles subtly exists in the movie’s foreground. Visually, though is obviously colored retains this ”monochromatic” aura reminiscent from the black and white films of that era.
Maxwell Perkins is an interesting man. Perkins treats his mundane job of inspecting and sweeping through endless manuscripts with a near Zen-like reverence. A family man at heart yet has trouble balancing dedication to his family and work. The line between of his work life and family life often blurs as he takes on a paternal role for his beloved writers. Beloved writers which include the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Both who makes appearances this film, Fitzgerald’s appearance is notably longer. The 30s was a low-point in Fitzgerald’s life, and this movie highlights this. He’s also a man of absolute integrity; he can maintain his calm in moments that most people would be totally alarmed in. Perkins is a man with a sage like a persona that you can’t help but respect.
If Maxwell Perkins is an interesting man, then Thomas Wolfe is an even more interesting man. A total anti-thesis of Maxwell Perkins, Thomas Wolfe is an overly boisterous and eccentric man. While Perkins always has his calm and composure, Wolfe doesn’t seem to be even aware of those traits exist. Or his maturity level is the polar opposite of Maxwell which is to say, none at all. Wolfe is exuberant to the point; he’s almost more like a cartoon character that stepped out of a Looney Tunes serial. There is no denying that Wolfe is a passionate man. A man who is utterly consumed by his commitment to his writing to the point that his relationship with his loving wife is in question. Though it sounds hyperbolic, for every second of Wolf’s life, his life is dominated by his writing. Such a passion almost turns Wolfe into a self-absorbed figure. At moments, he seriously annoyed the heck out of me for a serious lack of empathy on occasions. In spite of the multiple times he annoyed me, I came to like his character towards the end.
Genius is a film that rests on the merits of the relationship between the two; a touching relationship that shifts between a brotherly one and to one of father and son. The innermost thoughts of both are revealed due to this relationship. The relationship develops with a quite bit of nuance but none the less, there are many great dramatic moments that do the same. Seeing these two polar opposites becoming close is probably the Genius’s greatest merit. The sentimentality that this odd relationship produces always feel genuine, never forced.
A slight shortcoming of the film I felt was Thomas Wolfe’s wife, Aline Bernstein. Aline is no passive wife. She at times appears to be emotionally disturbed as her husband. Oddly, she is almost like a victim of Thomas Wolfe’s madness. Like what a person will become if one doesn’t have the discipline of Perkins to endure Thomas Wolfe’s eccentric behavior. Heck, the domestic life of Aline and Thomas is probably good material enough for a stand-alone film of its own. Some of the crazy actions that Aline takes need just a bit more development but no one can deny she isn’t an interesting character.
If Genius is an attempt to honor the profession of an editor, it has succeeded. The dedication of Maxwell Perkins to his craft is admirable. Perkins takes a work that other people can’t take seriously yet treats this work with a level of respect that appreciates the hard work. Perkins isn’t even fazed by the outrageous behavior of Wolfe and treats Wolfe with a level of respect he has for the likes of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Genius is the showcase of a heartwarming relationship; A relationship that represents the passion for two important things in the world of literature: editing and writing.