“GENIUS”— Colin Firth Plays Max Perkins

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“Genius”

Colin Firth Plays Max Perkins

Amos Lassen

The first trailer for “Genius” starring Colin Firth as Max Perkins has been released. I understand that Firth first became involved in the film some four years ago and it is only now being finished. Perkins was the book editor who helped Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe (once my literary hero) get published. The concentration is on Wolfe and how he became a literary force.

“From Academy Award-nominated screenwriter John Logan (“Gladiator”, “The Aviator”, “Hugo”, “Skyfall”) and Tony Award-winning director Michael Grandage in his feature film debut, comes “Genius”, a stirring drama about the complex friendship and transformative professional relationship between the world-renowned book editor Maxwell Perkins (who discovered F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway) and the larger-than-life literary giant Thomas Wolfe. Based on the biography “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius” by A. Scott Berg, “Genius” stars Firth as Perkins, Jude Law as Wolfe, Nicole Kidman as Aline Bernstein, a costume designer sharing a tumultuous relationship with Wolfe, Laura Linney as Louise Perkins, Max’s wife and a talented playwright, Guy Pearce as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dominic West as Ernest Hemingway.”

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The film deals with the initial meeting and subsequent collaborations between celebrated editor Max Perkins and novelist Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). The often-intensive nature of their work results in strained relationships between the men and the women in their lives.

While the film revolves around Wolfe, it’s certainly not just his story. Firth plays Perkins with a refined stoicism, punctuated by the slightest twitch in his facial expressions indicating his character’s amusement and occasional frustration.

We can see why the film has been so highly anticipated—- the cast is impressive cast and this is the debut feature film from respected theatre director Michael Grandage. Based on a true story, “Genius” is set in 1920s New York and essentially tells the story of the professional life of Wolfe (Jude Law). The famous writer was discovered by Perkins having been turned down by every other publisher in town. The film explores the creativity that went into his first couple of novels and the personal issue that he endured, including a turbulent relationship with his wife, Aline Bernstein (Kidman), as well as alcohol abuse and other addictions, primarily to his own writing.

Wolfe was known for his over-writing, and its highlighted in the movie. We see that he turned in first drafts of between 1000 and 5000 words in his first couple of books. We see a firm bond develop between the two , something of what today is called a bromance. The two strive to battle against the endless struggle to turn in the perfect manuscript  and this is all under the watchful and suspecting eye of their respective wives (Linney brilliantly plays Mrs. Perkins).

The film is a visual feast and Grandage has managed to pull the best possible performance from his actors. Jude Law stands out with his interpretation of Wolfe, complete with Southern drawl. Firth ravishes the material and almost matches his co-star. Nicole Kidman in a more supporting role is excellent as well.

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I had a bit of trouble with the appearances of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway because that they were included seemed to be unimportant. Their presence is a clear digression to the plot.

Depicting the unusually intimate (and non-sexual) relationship between two men, the film uncovers the literary sensation Thomas Wolfe and the publication of his first and second novels “Look Homeward, Angel” and “Of Time And The River” under the blue pencil of Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins (how I loved those novels—I spent an entire summer when I was younger in Asheville, North Carolina so that I could experience “Wolfe country” ). Wolfe had a desire to capture life in a stream of words that just flow out of him, while Perkins is a family man with a genius for putting the dramaturgy into a novel. It’s a mutually enriching experience for both men, as Wolfe’s words are shaved down into a “marketable bestseller” by Perkins. Both Wolfe and Perkins had an unbounded compulsion to create and the analytical force to improve. “Genius” succeeds on its intricate and precise script and its wonderful performances. It is almost as the film tells us to live life to its fullest and against one’s own grain and we are reminded to cherish those relationships in which we find fulfillment.

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