I was beginning to feel like I was the only person out there who liked the new film GENIUS. It opened early last month, got a lousy 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been playing to steadily dwindling audiences ever since. The story of the tumultuous relationship between Thomas Wolfe and his legendary editor Maxwell Perkins, it stars Jude Law as Wolfe, Colin Firth as Perkins, and a whole lot of other British and Australian actors like Dominic West, Guy Pearce, and Nicole Kidman all playing Americans like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Aline Bernstein. It shouldn’t work, yet it does, splendidly. And somehow, in its long scenes between Firth and Law as Perkins and Wolfe wrestling Wolfe’s novels down to manageable length, it doesn’t bore; it only excites. Well, it excited ME, at least, with its vivid depiction of the volatile, delicate relationship shared between authors and their editors.
Those were exactly the parts of the film most people found boring. Well, they are cerebral scenes depicting a cerebral process, but Firth and Law’s appealing performances, John Logan’s screenplay (based on A. Scott Berg’s biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius), and Michael Grandage’s direction make it all spring right off the screen. To me those scenes were anything but boring, but as a literary professional, I’d been there many times, and so I enjoyed seeing the process played out in a dramatic context.
I felt like a bit of a voice in the wilderness, urging friends to ignore the reviews and the word of mouth and see it. But I was heartened two weeks ago to see that veteran Doubleday executive editor Gerald Howard liked the film enough to write this beautiful, informed piece for The Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s more than a film review; it’s a fine piece of writing by someone who has spent his life in the editing trenches and knows what he’s talking about.
Genius is probably long gone from most movie theaters by now. But if you want to see a film that is a lovely valentine to writers, editors, and the whole big beast that is publishing, you could do a lot worse than to check it out on Netflix.