Anyone who wishes to make fun of an actor trained in the Stanislavsky school of acting would probably ask, “what’s my motivation?” Laugh, if it pleases you, but this question is a relevant one when it comes to character depth and development. The viewer is more likely to believe that a character would engage in a certain kind of behavior if the viewer knew why such actions took place. In other words, the viewer wants to know “what’s the motivation?” B.A., aka Babar Ahmed, keeps the answer elusive in his film “Genius.”
Shot on location in Manhattan, “Genius” centers on the relationship between 18 year-old Michael (Diogerlin Linares) and his economics teacher Ms. Goldwyn (Kelly Winters). Before you raise a suspicious eyebrow, let me put you at ease. It isn’t the “Please Don’t Stand So Close to Me” sort of relationship. There are no Police songs in this film—Ms. Goldwyn is not the subject of schoolboy fantasy. Michael only wants her to teach him how to understand economics so he can impress a girl in his class.
Less than fifteen minutes into the film and already I demand to know “what’s your motivation?” The film may reveal the cause-and-effect reason (understand econ, get the girl), but why? What’s so special about the girl? Why does Ms. Goldwyn already know that Michael’s extra tutoring request is so a girl will like him? Why is Ms. Goldwyn so quick-tempered? As a viewer, I’d need these explanations so that I might get into the characters. B.A. doesn’t quench my curiosity until the film is seventy-five percent over, and when he gives me the answers, it makes sense why it takes so long. Ms. Goldwyn does more than teach Michael the law of supply and demand. She helps him realize that he doesn’t have to be perfect to be a genius.
The acting doesn’t always come across as natural, but I must praise B.A. for the excellent production values and his ability to breathe so much life into inanimate objects. Buildings, fountains, parks, the sky, and even benches look better in front of B.A.’s lens than people. The film starts with a gorgeous shot of New York around dusk, when the sun starts slipping into the horizon. It turns the sky soft shades of pink and orange as opposed to a fiery “Gone With the Wind” sunset. B.A. undoubtedly knows how to shoot buildings and skylines without making them look boring. If he could apply some of that artistry into his human pieces, he’ll definitely go places.
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