There is More Than One “Genius” in the Movie
By Skip Sheffield
“Genius” is a movie for English majors. You can’t get much more literary than a story about Charles Scribner’s Sons most celebrated editor, Maxwell Perkins, and the three most famous authors he guided: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe.
“Genius” focuses on perhaps the most gifted of the trio: Thomas Wolfe, played Jude Law. Law affects a Southern accent to play North Carolina’s most honored writer.
Maxwell Perkins is played by another Briton, Colin Firth. The story begins in New York City in 1929. The nation is on the brink of the Great Depression but Wolfe is happy because his semi-autobiographical novel, “Look Homeward, Angel,” has just been published by Scribner’s.
If it weren’t for Max Perkins, “Look Homeward, Angel” would not have seen the light of day. Wolfe was turned down by every other publisher in New York. No wonder, the manuscript ran to 1,100 pages.
Perkins saw something special in the rambling verbiage and agreed to take on Wolfe with the provision he cut the sprawling manuscript into something viable for the average reader.
So began what was an almost father-son relationship. Perkins was a family man with a loving wife (Laura Linney) and five beautiful daughters. Wolfe had lost his father at an early age. He was introduced to Perkins by Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman, scarcely recognizable), a wealthy married woman who was Wolfe’s strongest champion and lover.
Wolfe was a highly emotional man given to flights of ecstatic fancy and depths of dire depression. He quarreled with Perkins and Mrs. Bernstein and eventually broke with them both.
Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) are but bit players in this story, though Fitzgerald’s slow slide into alcoholism and obscurity foreshadowed Wolfe’s own premature demise. Wolfe died of tumors in his brain just 18 days short of his 38th birthday. British director Michael Grandage (“The Madness of King George”) has provided a fitting tribute to the Asheville, NC genius who was unappreciated in his lifetime but revered in all the years since.