Opening 11 Aug 2016
Max Perkins (Firth) was a legendary literary editor for New York City’s Charles Scribner’s Son publishing house. “… are we really making books better, or just different.” During Max’s long tenure he nurtured/guided/befriended many (young) authors, including Ernst Hemingway (Pearce) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (West). Thus, Max reads potential greatness in the sea of words that make up O, Lost when it lands on his desk. The author (Law), however, following countless rejections is dumbfounded, grateful, then anxious to make cuts necessary for publishing. Louise (Linney) welcomes Thomas Wolfe into the Perkins home; their five daughters take to Tom’s tales. But Mrs. Bernstein’s (Kidman) trepidations regarding Tom’s success turn overwhelmingly resentful. Wolfe’s second novel, longer and demanding more editing, devours time and patience from those involved. The outcome depends on each individual’s personality, and ability for coping with consequences beyond anyone’s control.
Based on A. Scott Berg’s book, John Logan’s screenplay about the difficult author and great editor’s relationship is at times wordy, and takes some liberties. The supporting cast performances are reputable. Cinematographer Ben Davis’ atmospheric tonality sparkles, and is somber considering the Great Depression (1929) is beginning. Although editing is respectable, Chris Dickens’ jazz club scene addition is questionable, distracting. Production design, costume design, and art direction are arresting.
British theatre director Michael Grandage, and Jina Jay (casting), could have alleviated the film’s sluggishness. Firth and Law are wonderful English actors, but – imagine Tom Hanks as King George VI (The King’s Speech, 2010). Law overacts—maybe concentrating too much on that southern accent—delivering a regrettably grating performance. Still, Genius is easy-to-watch while recognizing the astute Max Perkins, as well as offering inside looks at the fascinating publishing world. (Marinell Haegelin)