Short Take: The story of the friendship between renowned editor Max Perkins and the larger than life literary giant – and Asheville’s native son – Thomas Wolfe.
REEL TAKE: Local readers may recall actor Jude Law’s visit to Asheville a while back to research Asheville’s native son Thomas Wolfe. Law was preparing to fill some big shoes as the literary giant in the film Genius. The film played to enthusiastic audiences this past June at the Fine Arts Theatre. If you missed it, the film is now available on DVD.
I remember being somewhat dismayed by the less than fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes for Genius. Perhaps it was merely a lovely bore for the rest of the world, but here in Asheville our little enclave of critics looked favorably on the film. Admittedly I’m a sucker for that chapter of literary history, but Genius is also a rare drama that delves into the depths of male friendship.
Based on A. Scott Berg’s biography “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius”, Colin Firth plays legendary book editor Max Perkins and , as mentioned earlier, Jude Law plays the larger than life Thomas Wolfe. An editor at Scribner’s, Perkins had already discovered and published a couple of fellows named Fitzgerald and Hemingway by the time a small forest of paper was deposited on his desk containing the scribblings of an unbridled young man from the mountains of North Carolina. Editing the loquacious missive that became “Look Homeward Angel” was perhaps the biggest challenge of Perkins’ career but also one of the highlights of his life. Genius tells that story and the relationship that developed between Perkins and Wolfe.
Firth’s Perkins is gentle, reserved and rather soft spoken, while Law plunges headfirst into the big, boozy, beautiful world of Wolfe. Both bring out something wanting in the other. Perkins is at once an editor, father figure and friend to Wolfe. Wolfe is at once a maddening, yet utterly irresistible burden to Perkins. Wolfe’s insatiable appetite for life matches his never ending verbosity, but his unfiltered and self indulgent ways fat fistedly threaten his meteoric world.Law clearly relished the meaty role and it’s one of his best performances (which is saying a lot), but while he gets to throw every ounce of acting school into his part, Firth is the one who has the trickier part. It’s another quiet character, the kind that he’s played many times before, but he has to bring a simmering depth to this character to make it work, and he does it beautifully.
Laura Linney and Nicole Kidman play Perkins’ wife and Wolfe’s married lover / benefactor. Both turn in fine performances (it occurred to me that there could easily be another film just about these two fascinating ladies). Guy Pearce and Dominic West are both pitch perfect as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, and both prove the old adage that there are no small parts. Genius was adapted by John Logan (Gladiator, Hugo, The Aviator and Skyfall) and I think it was much a labor for love for him as tackling “O Lost” was for Perkins.
Rent Genius. At worst, you are unmoved, but at best you are immersed in the American literary renaissance and maybe even tempted to read or re-visit “Look Homeward Angel.”
By Michelle Keenan