Opening today, Flash of Genius is a based-on-a-true-story movie about the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, played by Greg Kinnear. Also starring Lauren Graham, Alan Alda and Dermot Mulroney, the film includes a rather inconsequential 8-second scene in which I appear as an unnamed doctor who prescribes an ointment for Ms. Graham’s hands. For the record, she was very nice and friendly to me. A pleasure, as Katharine and I were ardent Gilmore Girls watchers.
I’ve been reading some of the Flash of Genius reviews at RottenTomatoes.com, and they are mixed. Either it’s boring, pointless, and hackneyed, or poignant, inspirational and estimable. The Toronto Star, Roger Ebert and Rolling Stone liked it; The Globe and Mail, Variety and the bozo at the Orlando Sentinel (who used to annoy me with his overbearing self-importance when I lived in his territory) did not; and others like The New York Times fall in-between.
Having attended a screening shortly before the film played at TIFF, we had already made up our own minds. Sure, I’d like it to be a hit, if only for the potential residuals. But my eight seconds aren’t enough, I would hope, to cloud my judgement. In short: I liked it; didn’t love it.
Seems to me some of the reviewers, however, missed a key point or two. Some complain that Kinnear’s character is flawed and not always likeable. But that is just what keeps him from being two dimensional. And he pays for it, lending a rare ambiguity to the conclusion.
Others scoff at the windshield wiper as being too insignificant either as a subject for a film or as something to spend one’s life fighting over. But such little things can be all that we common people have to point to as ours. Besides, such a unique topic separates Flash of Genius from so many other underdog stories. It isn’t about defeating the Roman Empire or winning the big game (in whatever sport you prefer). It is more personal. Moreover, the almost ludicrous subject allows us to appreciate how even the mundane can represent integrity.
I kind of like these review quotes:
“Flash of Genius is a conventional crowdpleaser but not, I’m pleased to report, a shameless one.” —Eugene Novikov, Cinematical
“There’s definitely hope for an industry that can still make a movie as good as Flash of Genius about a subject as difficult as intellectual property rights.” —William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“With minimal saccharine emotions and a reliance on low-key realism, Flash of Genius is a formulaic underdog tale carried out with decided intelligence.” —Dustin Putman, TheMovieBoy.com
So yes, it’s yet another little guy fighting impossible odds and yes, the movie contains some of the clichés we’ve all come to expect from such David vs. Goliath stories. But it does so more quietly than most, leaving room for contemplation. Beautifully filmed, well acted, and without the easy, hard-to-believe absolute victory of many such movies. Which would you sacrifice: personal relationships and happiness or self-esteem and truth? We the audience must decide whether the character’s resolve is honourable or merely obsessive. Or, perhaps, both.