Variety film critic Peter Debruge calls the movie wooden and lifeless despite the stars. A sample:
Of all the forms of genius that exist in the world, writing is perhaps the least dramatic to depict onscreen. Where other movies give us mad painters splashing away at canvases or tortured mathematicians scribbling equations on window panes, literary biopics typically fall back on lonely men seated at their desks, wresting sheets of paper from a typewriter, only to crumple each one up and begin again. But great writing isn’t an entirely solitary process, and though Michael Grandage’s dull, dun-colored “Genius” makes every effort to credit the editor’s role in shaping the century’s great novels, it’s nobody’s idea of interesting to watch someone wield his red pencil over the pile of pages that would become Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel,” even if the editor in question is the great Maxwell Perkins. While the talent involved should draw smarthouse crowds, the result has all the life of a flower pressed between “Angel’s” pages 87 years ago.
This Genius review at indiewire.com is less harsh, but not exactly glowing, either. A sample:
Really, your mileage will vary on “Genius,” depending on where you place Law’s performance on the irritating/entertaining spectrum and your tolerance for somewhat formulaic tales of creative ego and “The Price of Fame.” All other credentials are present and correct: DP Ben Davis who also shot, er, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” does a nice job of keeping the period visuals stately but not inert, and even manages to film “people writing” or “people talking about writing” in a fairly dynamic manner. The costumes, outside of that annoying hat, are unshowily period-accurate. The music from Adam Cork is forgettably nice.
Reuters reports that director Michael Grandage was nervous about directing his first feature:
Starring Colin Firth as Perkins, Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe and Nicole Kidman as the older married woman who fell in love with the rambunctious novelist, “Genius” is having its premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival where it is competing for the main Golden Bear prize.
Grandage, who made his name directing classics of the English-language theater, told Reuters in an interview that he knew he could deal with his actors but was unfamiliar with some aspects of film-making.
The Guardian reports that Jude Law, who visited Asheville in the summer of 2014 to research his portrayal of Wolfe, notes Law’s work on his accent:
Based on the book, Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius by A Scott Berg, the script was written by John Logan, screenwriter of the last two Bond films.
“Wolfe is on the verge of being forgotten,” said Logan. “So if we remind a few people that there is a great writer to be rediscovered, we’ve done our job well.”
Law, who plays Wolfe as exuberant in life as he wrote on the page, said that he and Firth had been eager to capture “the speed of thought” that Perkins and Wolfe possessed. “They were fighting to find honesty at all costs,” he said.
Wolfe, who died of miliary tuberculosis at the age of 37, was a North Carolina native who drew heavily on his own life to write his poetic prose. When asked if he’d had to suffer to learn the North Carolina accent, Law said: “I didn’t have to suffer greatly.” “We did,” joked Firth.
The Hollywood Reporter also talks about Law’s research into the Wolfe character:
Researching their real-life roles, Firth “fell in love with Fitzgerald again,” and Law read Wolfe’s letters and expansive canon. “What impressed me the most was his desire to shake things up, his desire to try and find a voice, to leave the past in the past and push himself in a new direction,” said Law of Wolfe. “He clearly had incredible writing skills, but it was almost as if that wasn’t enough.… He was fighting to find honesty.”
Law worked with a dialect coach to execute Wolfe’s specific American accent, and consulted on set with Laura Linney, since her family is from the same area as Wolfe’s. “This is a Southern accent with a hint of Appalachia in it,” she said. “Hearing him speak, the rhythm felt very familiar to me.”