Berlinale: Genius

Directed by Michael Grandage
Starring Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Laura Linney, Guy Pearce and Dominic West

by Joanna Orland

With a title rife for mockery, Genius is far from it.  The film sees Colin Firth star as famed book editor Max Perkins who moulded such classic American literaries as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West).  His latest protege is Thomas Wolfe, played impetuously by Jude Law.

At home, Perkins lives with his loving wife Louise (Laura Linney) and his five daughters.  His authors, notably Wolfe, are the sons he never had.  At home, Wolfe lives with his partner Aline (Nicole Kidman), a spiteful and embittered woman.  Both leading women in Genius lead unfulfilled lives – Louise is unfulfilled in her drama career but has a successful home life.  Aline is unfulfilled in her neglectful partnership with Wolfe, while her dramatic career is thriving in the theatre.  Their roles are so minor in this film, their only purpose is to serve as a reflection to the males of the film.

Genius is so male-centric, that the female authors the real Perkins worked with are never acknowledged on screen, while cameos from Hemingway and Fitzgerald are awkwardly ham-fisted in to help glorify his character.  I genuinely don’t know why actors of West’s and Pearce’s calibre would choose to partake in such meaningless on screen roles.

Firth plays Perkins with repressed restraint, while Law plays Wolfe with brash annoyance.  These characters are caricaturized rather than played as real humans, a directorial choice which leaves the audience detached and bored from the drama unfolding on screen.  I wish nothing ill of the real Wolfe who has long passed, but as for his on screen version – I was counting the minutes until his death.

Perhaps this detachment and lack of empathy felt towards the characters is directorial, perhaps performance based, or perhaps it is due to unfortunate miscasting.  Were there really no American actors available to play these legendary American literary figures!?  Laura Linney in a small supporting role seems to be the only American in this cast filled with dodgy accents and inappropriate English repression for Perkins, and cheekiness for Wolfe.

Genius feels like a stuffy old British production rather than a brazen American movie which would better suit its subject matter.  Genius – is anything but.



Our Genius press conference coverage

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