Just as there's a great woman behind every great man, there's usually a great editor behind any great author. But does anybody want to watch a movie about what an editor does? Well, maybe, only if it happens to be Max Perkins (Colin Firth), who helped guide the works of legendary authors Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe. All three titans of American literature appear in Michael Grandage's film, Genius, but the story is about Wolfe and his rocky relationship, both professional and personal, with Perkins.
The problem is that movies about the process of publishing a novel are extremely dull, and so there's a need to conflate the personalities of the subjects. Firth's reserved and low-key Perkins naturally forms a volatile mix with the talented and vain Wolfe, played to an overcooked degree by Jude Law. The North Carolinian author wasn't always that way; when he arrived at Perkins' office he was a starving writer eager to get anything published. But Perkins saw the brilliance hidden beneath the mounds and mounds of pages, focusing the massive, sprawling Look Homeward, Angel so that Wolfe's voice could be heard.
The success went to Wolfe's head and it's fair to say he's not the most likable character in the film. That would be okay if we were given glimpses of the titular genius on display but his egotism and willingness to discard the people in his life is what stands out. Nicole Kidman plays his mistress, Aline, a renowned theater designer who helped Wolfe stay on his feet through the lean periods. Predictably there comes a time when he no longer needs her, leading to her to exclaim that she's been "edited" out of his life like one of his characters. The women in this film aren't treated very well at all, really. Laura Linney, strangely enough the only American in the cast, gets little to do as Perkins' wife. That's still a lot more than can be said about Vanessa Kirby who sits silent during her brief appearances as Zelda Fitzgerald; a crime to even show her and not exhibit any of her exuberant personality. As her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald, Guy Pearce exudes the author's weariness at his flagging career. Meanwhile Dominic West barely registers as Hemingway, but at least he looks the part.
The lead performances are mostly solid, but Law is painfully miscast with his English accent poking holes in the Carolina with some regularity. The rock steady Firth is a perfect fit for the steadfast Perkins whose job quickly became that of Wolfe's babysitter; managing the writer's swelled head, personal demons, and extreme wordiness. Perkins just isn't terribly interesting, at least not as he's presented here, and in the one-note way he's depicted neither is Wolfe. There's probably a great story about Wolfe's genius in relation to his apparent madness, but Genius has edited it all out.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5