Genius is a period biopic that explores the relationship between an unsung literary maverick and his editor. One, Thomas Wolfe, inspired the Beat generation, and his contribution to modern American literature frequently goes overlooked; the other, Maxwell Perkins, discovered Hemingway and Fitzgerald but kept out of the spotlight. The film features an all-star cast and John Logan (Gladiator, Skyfall) on scriptwriting duties.
For those of you at home with your Academy Award score cards, please start ticking boxes: everything about Michael Grandage’s silver screen debut screams Oscar bait… and frequently angles a bit too hard for the golden baldie.
The ever-reliable Colin Firth plays the sensible straight man to Jude Law’s erratic artist, allowing the latter to bounce off the walls. Even if neither role is a huge stretch for the actors, their odd-couple dynamic works. However, Law’s manic interpretation is problematic: he channels the infectious energy of his The Talented Mr. Ripley days (and dials it up to 11) but frequently borders on pantomime, thereby quickly outstaying his welcome. If rumours are to be believed, Michael Fassbender was once in line for the role, and his more nuanced, less showy style may have made for a less exhausting watch.
Ultimately, with this tight script and these performances, you’ve got a bone fide West End stage hit. On screen however, you have a serviceable, sepia-toned biopic that works as an homage to two underappreciated figures, but is ultimately quite forgettable.
Genius | Directed by Michael Grandage (UK / USA, 2016) with Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman. Starts August 11.