Colin Firth and Jude Law star in GENIUS, a new movie about a famous 20th century American novelist and his editor. The genius in this absorbing movie is Thomas Wolfe who wrote LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL and OF TIME AND THE RIVER. Wolfe was brilliant, flamboyant, selfish, and obsessed, and the movie is about how his editor, Maxwell Perkins, managed to curb the writer’s excesses and shape his wordy prose into strong and powerful novels. It’s also about how their shared obsession with writing did real damage to their personal lives.
Tom: Bring it in guys. Here you go.
Max: We can do it.
Tom: How long?
Max: 9 months if you resist the temptation to add more.
Tom: I have to be able to add more.
Max: The book is five thousand pages long.
Tom: Point taken.
Jude Law plays the undisciplined writer, Thomas Wolfe, and Colin Firth is Maxwell Perkins, the incisive editor who also worked with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Their successful collaboration was also a continuous argument.
Tom: Every word matters.
Max: No, it doesn’t; you’re losing the plot. Two years and the book is only a hundred pages shorter.
Tom: I bring you stuff ripped right from my gut. You wouldn’t do this to Hemingway, to Fitzgerald.
Max: Stop it.
The pair did succeed in producing great work but at great personal cost. Tom’s partner, who left her husband and two daughters to be with him, is played by Nicole Kidman.
Mrs. Bernstein: You’ve been working every night for two years. Do you have any idea what it’s like coming home to an empty apartment every night?
And Perkins’ wife Louise, played by Laura Linney, isn’t happy either.
Louise: Your daughters want their father back.
Max: A writer like Tom I get one in a lifetime.
Louise: You get your daughters for the same lifetime.
In spite of their differences the writer and the editor become close friends, but once the books are a big success, Wolfe thinks Perkins is getting too much credit.
Tom: Max thinks he created me. He crippled me; he deformed my work.
Scott: He made all your dreams come true; he gave you a career.
Obviously GENIUS will work best for people who are familiar with the great American novelists of the first half of the twentieth century. But even folks who haven’t read a novel in years may well appreciate this well acted cautionary tale about the downside of genius.
Terry Hunter, Hawaii News now. thunter@hawaiinewsnow