Genius: A film review

In its subtlety; its sophistication; and, surprisingly, its quiet pace, which requires more interaction and involvement from the viewer, Genius, directed by Michael Grandage, sets a new standard for melding a superior and literate script with a superb cast and thoughtful direction that, at least to this audience, sets a new standard.

Hollywood has become associated with the cheap, the tawdry, the overexposed (in all senses), and the CGI trick trompe l'oeil green screen that robs the actor of real opponents or adversaries, and the viewer of credulity.

Not Genius.

Colin Firth as legendary editor of the century's most protean writers Max Perkins does something few films before attempt: he makes editing supremely watchable and deeply professional.  It is not a career that is given to easy encapsulation or animation, but Firth accomplishes that.  His Perkins is a solemn soul, a deeply integritous soul, whose commitment to excellence and none less is visible in his pauses, pregnant taciturnity, and hesitancies.  Lovely Laura Linney is luminous and touching, managing to say more in her facial composure and difficulties than most could say with paragraphs of dialogue.

Editors elsewhere are a faceless, unacknowledged suitcase of ciphers, even as Perkins/Firth tells Jude Law/Thomas Wolfe – they are often invisible, if they have succeeded in their task to bring forth a better work from the mountain of pages presented them.  (We choose to think the result is both better and truer than had it been left untouched, as many writers seem to prefer.)

Jude Law magnificently embodies the quicksilver ebullience, self-doubt, flamboyance, and wit of the brilliant Wolfe.  Guy Pearce is a tormented and constipated Fitzgerald, and Vanessa Kirby as his blocked, maddening, and maddened wife Zelda is also fine.  Nicole Kidman is amazing in her capture of the imperious but besotted Aline Bernstein, such that one cannot look away from her nuanced moment by moment histrionics-cum-bleeding reality.  What a powerful ensemble is amassed here, with each person possessed of his own rhythm, his own arguable pace, yet melding intoxicatingly into this moving, enlightening, mesmerizing film – one that easily bests the lesser mere entertainments of the year for genuine emotion, heart, and intelligence.

This is a film for adults, but it is, or should become, a film for mandatory viewing in high schools and even colleges.  As a former professor in colleges in Asia and elsewhere, I would assign this film for Saturday viewing, then make it the basis of class papers and term projects on the writers shown, as well as Perkins and Bernstein and Zelda.

A superb entertainment.  A superb enlivening of literary history.

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