Let’s start with the misguided decision to have famed editor Maxwell Perkins wear a hat indoors in every scene of this film. Undoubtedly it was stimulated by the biography on which this movie is based, but for viewers who haven’t read that book, it becomes a joke to see a cultured intellectual sit at a dinner table with his elegant wife and daughters wearing the hat that he wore with his winter coat when he walked through the front door of his elegant home. You just know that any wife played by Laura Linney would have glared at him and not allowed the meal to commence before the hat was removed. Since the movie never rises to that level of emotional truth, it won’t be a spoiler to reveal that its ultimate removal is meant to signify a larger than life sentiment.
But this movie falters in so many directions at once that you’ll be looking at your watch way before you reach that point. There is Jude Law playing Thomas Wolfe as an overgrown adolescent whose talent is hidden beneath a mountain of excess verbiage - a man so in love with his own logorrhea that he actually brings assorted bundles of handwritten paper totaling 5,000 pages to his editor whose equanimity belies any recognizable reaction by a normal professional in the book trade. There is Colin Firth’s performance as Perkins - a character better suited to a book than a motion picture which implies occasional changes of expression to fit that definition. And there is Nicole Kidman playing Aline Bernstein, a married middle-aged set designer besotted with the youthful Harvard graduate and willing to overlook his alcoholic boorishness and over-arching narcissism because she too recognizes his talent. The viewer yearns for Mrs. Robinson, a more direct and breezy version of this caricature.
“Look Homeward Angel” was once a staple of college courses in 20th century American Lit - the movie suggests that it was a runaway best seller that had young women swooning for its author a la Frank Sinatra bobby-soxers. If “Genius” had not been such a turn-off, I might have been tempted to check the veracity of that depiction. But it hardly makes a difference. Nobody reads “Look Homeward Angel” anymore and very few people will see this film. Those who do should think of it as marginally better than a 1 hour and twenty minute dental appointment. I omit the names of the writer and director out of kindness.
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