It’s hard to know where to start with Real Genius. It runs just over a hundred minutes, but gets so much done in the first forty, then so much different stuff done in the next thirty, the remainder is almost entirely separate.
The plot evolves, expanding as events unfold. Genius isn’t its concept or MacGuffin. Instead, it’s something wholly original, maybe because it doesn’t worry about the audience identifying with the characters. But director Coolidge never treats them as subjects; they’re always the film’s driving force.
Gabriel Jarret plays the lead–a fifteen year-old genius off to a science school–and brings the viewer into the film. Until he passes it off to Val Kilmer, a slightly older genius. But while Kilmer’s character confronts personal accountability, Jarret’s busy having a touching romance with Michelle Meyrink.
While all this character development is going on, Kilmer and Jarret are also dealing with William Atherton’s deceptive prick of a professor and Robert Prescott (as his lackey).
The juxtaposing of Kilmer and Jarret’s characters is one of Genius‘s strongest elements, especially since the actors do so well with it. Kilmer gets to give an absurd, rock star type performance (and excels), while Jarret is introverted but also more mature.
Meyrink’s great, as is Prescott. Atherton, in the type of role he’d quickly become typecast for, is perfect. Jon Gries is also excellent in a small role.
Coolidge uses her Panavision frame well and there’s beautiful Vilmos Zsigmond photography.