Genius: You Can’t Go Home Again
Thomas Wolfe wrote “You Can’t Go Home Again,” and he was damn right, except perhaps in the case of Dorothy and Kansas. An elegant biopic starring Jude Law shows the manic desperation that compelled Wolfe to become the voice of his generation.
Genius depicts both Wolfe and his publisher Max Perkins, who edited Wolfe’s massive tomes as well as the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. The story is set in the late-1920s in a dank and gloomy New York City.
The set design and cinematography are front and center in establishing the mood of Genius. I may have counted one scene in the entire movie where the weather was not overcast or gloomy. (That scene takes place on a pier with Hemingway and Perkins. He and the author have been Marlin fishing.)
Perkins functions as much as a lead character as does Wolfe. In their respective roles as Wolfe (Law) and his editor Perkins (Colin Firth), the two actors compete to show who can chew the most scenery. But it’s a methodical approach the twin leads take — a lot of the film’s emotion revolves around the inner lives of these two characters.
Wolfe desperately wants to be published and once Perkins reads the brilliance of Wolfe’s drafts, he becomes the enabler. For every page that Wolfe pens, his friend — or at times nemesis — Perkins marks out vast paragraphs with a red pencil. Perkins never takes his hat off, not for work with his clients nor for dinner with his family. Wolfe always seems to be super animated as if under the spell of his muse.
Wolfe’s debut novel, Look Homeward Angel: A Story of the Buried Life, became a celebration of the written word, as well as a semi-autobiographical glimpse at his upbringing. Genius establishes Wolfe as supported by his wife (Nicole Kidman) while he paints his proverbial masterpiece. Wolfe was so obsessed with his writing that he didn’t return the support when she needed him the on opening night of one of her plays.
Kidman actually turns out to be the most interesting character in the movie. She’s as strong willed as any of the characters, but just a little bit of her husband’s hysterics bleed through to her personality best exemplified in a scene where she pulls a gun on Perkins. Unfortunately for the movie, the filmmakers sort of throw her under the bus and we don’t hear from her during the last act. Fitzgerald’s wife Zelda is reduced to a stereotypical neurotic in her brief scene. Laura Linney, as Louise Perkins, keeps her sanity by immersing herself and her daughters in the literary and dramatic arts.
The majority of Genius celebrates the bromance between Wolfe and Perkins with Law always seeming disheveled while Firth wears a solemn countenance defined by his chain smoking and outlined by the rim of his Fedora. Guy Pearce and Dominic West appear briefly as Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
“Genius” opens exclusively this weekend at the Cinemark Woodlands and the River Oaks Theatre.