A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Genius is a biographical drama about acclaimed 20th-century literary editor Max Perkins' (Colin Firth) complex, almost paternal relationship with legendary author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). Despite the well-known stars, this is likely too academic a subject matter for most teens to be interested in, but high-schoolers familiar with Wolfe and/or his literary contemporaries and predecessors Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald may be fascinated by the way the movie portrays the close artistic partnership between writer and editor. Language includes a few uses of "goddamn," "son of a b-tch," and the like, and there's some passionate kissing and allusions to prostitution and adultery. Themes of alcoholism (everyone drinks to excess), artistic angst, and mental illness are best suited for mature audiences.
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What's the story?
GENIUS chronicles the intense relationship between legendary Scribner and Sons literary editor Maxwell Perkins (Colin Firth) -- who'd published both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway -- and the South's most acclaimed 20th-century writer, Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law). In 1929, a colleague asks Perkins to take a look at a huge manuscript that all the other publishing houses have passed on. After reading it nonstop, Perkins calls in the insecure Wolfe to give him an advance, but also explain that the novel must be cut down from its 1,000+ pages to a more reasonable size that he can market. Working nonstop on the edit, the two men have room for little else in their lives; Tom, especially, neglects his lover/"patroness," Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman), a married set designer. After the critical and commercial success of Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe's second manuscript for Perkins is even larger than the first -- 5,000 pages of autobiographical material. As the two again work tirelessly to edit Wolfe's words, Perkins' friends begin to suggest that their relationship cannot last, either professionally or personally.
Is it any good?
Although this behind-the-scenes look at a legendary editor is too stage-like to be truly lasting as a film, Firth's performance as Perkins is particularly noteworthy. Playing Genius' central character, Firth does a fine job portraying the man who published some of the greatest authors of the 20th century. His is a recognizable tale of a company man who loves his job but also truly loves his wife and five (!) daughters. That Perkins comes to see the eccentric and verbose Wolfe as a son figure is painfully understandable.
Law, on the other hand, while doing a passable (if overdone) job with his North Carolinian accent, is definitely miscast as Thomas Wolfe (not to be confused with the Southern writer in the white suit, Tom Wolfe; he arrived on the literary scene decades later). Not only does Law not look anything like the writer, but his portrayal doesn't really humanize Wolfe; instead, it makes him the embodiment of the idea that artists should indulge in whatever narcissism is necessary to produce their art. Considering this is a truly American, the cast -- with the exception of Laura Linney as Max's wife -- is conspicuously, almost distractingly, English and Australian. (At least Guy Pearce and Dominic West are physically suited to playing Fitzgerald and Hemingway, respectively.) Despite the directorial flaws, the story itself is fascinating and well deserving of coverage in popular culture. One can only hope that movie-goers will want to read North Carolina's greatest author after seeing a movie about him.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the substance use (and abuse) in Genius. What seems to be the relationship between artists and drinking? Why do you think smoking is so ubiquitous in the movie? What's changed since the era in which the movie takes place?
Are there role models in this movie? Who are they, and how do they act?
Nearly every character in the movie is American, but they're all played by English or Australian actors. Do you think characters should be played by people who share their heritage? When does -- or should -- it matter?
Discuss the role of women in this story. What do they contribute? Do you think they're accurately represented?
Does the movie make you interested in Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, or Ernest Hemingway? What did you learn about them and their editor, Max Perkins?
- In theaters: June 10, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: September 6, 2016
- Cast: Colin Firth, Jude Law, Nicole Kidman
- Director: Michael Grandage
- Studios: Roadside Attractions, Lionsgate
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some thematic elements and suggestive content
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