A life that was stolen by words (Genius movie review)

Genius”, directed by Michael Grandage, is a fact-based story of Max Perkins (very good Colin Firth), who is a pretty famous literary editor that supports young writers on their way to the success in the demanding and cruel world of books, and his friendship with Thomas Wolf (great Jude Law) – an eccentric author whose life is made of words and who has dedicated himself to novels, but hadn’t have much luck in other publishing houses. Max was a father of successes of such writers as Hemingway or Fitzgerald – Wolf simply couldn’t find a better man to help him in becoming a literature star of great calibre.

The director of “Genius” focuses on the very special – inspiring and distractive at the same time – relation that Thomas and Max had. He tells the story of passion that turns into obsession and becomes dangerous – not only for those who are under its influence, but also for those who come from the outside reality. The titled “genius” is a word that describes not only Wolf, but also – or maybe even above all – Perkins who is a brilliant editor who knows how to sculpt in words. One of the most important questions that Grandage’s movie is concentrated on concerns the nature of the editing process – how much can an editor change in the original to don’t turn a book into a totally new work.

One of the best decisions that the director has made was resisting temptation of turning the story of legendary writer in an epic narration about his romances, scandals and other threads that would make the massive audience happy, but at the same would overshadow, probably less spectacular, drama that is inscribed in creative process and is driven not only by the need to create, but also by the inability of doing anything else. Grandage shows the solitude that seems to be both – a condition and a cost of writing. Wolf in Law’s embodiment is a man that was made of pure passion that made him blind for the outside world. He – as many other great demiurges – has believed in his divinity and that’s what has detached him from reality and other people.

The destructive nature of creative obsession that produces a genius is shown in the scenes with Wolf’s lover – Aline (great Nicole Kidman), who in Gradage’s movie becomes not only an concrete character, but also a more universal synecdoche of all women that were inspiring their men, scarifying for them, and – last but not least – fighting with them for their dreams to come true and then became victims of genius that they helped creating. Aline is hysterical and has a tendency to use theatrical gestures, but – what’s important – the director doesn’t turn her private tragedy into a joke, but focuses on her change – from a desperate that was madly in love with Thomas and saw the meaning of life in his company into a hurt but empowered woman who has find courage to move on and breaking the toxic relation with an energetic vampire that was as fascinating as cruel and extremely egocentric. The story of Wolf’s relationship is – like many different parts of “Genius” – is made of clichés and schemes that cinema has used thousand times, but this obviousness makes the message neither less strong nor less authentic, which wouldn’t be possible without great acting performances. Kidman, Law, and Firth turn the average, safe and pretty transparent script on into a material for unforgettable creations. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t have much more to offer and with different cast could turn out to be a sad disaster.

Nevertheless, “Genius” has some good moments. The story starts when Max accepts Thomas’s book but demands huge shortcuts. The process of creating Wolf’s debut is presented as battle of two great minds and masters of words and of storytelling. The director highlights the editor’s brilliancy in intense, fascinating dialogues during which Perkins convinces Thomas to cuts and composes the dramaturgy of the book that is being formed in a painful (for the writer) process of rejecting thousands of words, paragraphs, and pages. The enormous number of lines that the author had to delete raises a question if every manuscript can be turned into a masterpiece when being transformed by the hand of an incredibly good editor. Another interesting secondary thread is concentrated on the drama of Fitzgerald who – after huge successes – suffers of creative impotence that is caused not only by the burnout, but – above all – by the circumstances. Scott has to deal with his wife mental disease, when Thomas is a man who doesn’t really see the point of living the ordinary life and its ordinary problems.

Genius” is neither a great biography, nor a movie which formal side is very outstanding, but – with no doubts – it’s a good, sad tale about the creating process that the director doesn’t mythologizes, but on the contrary – surprises the audience with a very intense portraits of writers who are being devastated by both – obsession that results with maniacal overproduction of words and by creative impotence.