Flash of Genius ***
Directed by Marc Abraham
Written by Philip Railsback, based on the article by John Seabrook
Greg Kinnear as Bob Kearns
Lauren Graham as Phyllis Kearns
Alan Alda as Gregory Lawson
Tim Kellehar as Charlie Defao
Jake Abel as Dennis Kearns
Dermot Mulroney as Gil Privick
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
"Flash of Genius" is that feel good film that comes out every once in a while-for example, last year's "The Astronaut Farmer." Where one man and his family have a dream, while a big company does whatever they can to stop him. But "Flash of Genius" is blessed by a decent script considering that its familiar material, and a great lead performance by Greg Kinnear, in his second movie of the year that is bound to make absolutely no money-the other being "Ghost Town." In some respects its quite amazing that a film like "Flash of Genius" was given such a big release, or even a greenlight. After all, its based on the true story of the man who invented the intermittent windshield wiper-an invention that I'm sure nobody has ever actually considered the story behind. But the film isn't so much about the invention itself, as it is about standing up for the little guy, even when prospects seem bleak.
That is the story of Bob Kearns, a doctor of engineering who came up with the idea of a delayed windshield wiper after realizing the fault of the regular wiper during light rain storms. He wants to manufacture the item himself, something that Ford doesn't go for when he tries to sell it to them. They agree, and as Bob gets all the supplies ready to begin building, they pull out-destroying his dreams of being rich for his wife Phyllis and his six children. Several months later, caught in a rainstorm, he ends up seeing a car driving down the road with a delayed windshield wiper, causing him to go down to the Ford company where he accuses them of stealing his idea. This begins a very long process where Bob tries to get the Ford company in court-where his friend and partner Gil leaves him after giving up, where his wife leaves him about being frustrated-finally its Bob and Bob alone who stands up to the company in court, refusing the money they offer and simply wanting credit for his idea.
It's a very familiar story, and the entire film doesn't exactly offer anything new to this type of genre. You can look up the ending online, but its quite obvious that they wouldn't make this film if it had a downer ending. But its the performance by Greg Kinnear that really holds the movie together-he really has come a long way for his early 90's "Talk Soup" origins. It's a somewhat difficult character to play, as there has to be sympathy for him to make it possible for the viewer to become engrossed in the story. And the film has an appropriate frustrated tone-including the rather long running time. I was reminded of a film I saw at the New York Film Festival last year called "I Just Didn't Do It," which was about a man wrongfully accused of a crime that he did not commit, going through the trial motions for months and months. As Bob delivers his summary at the end of the film to the jury, there is a sense of relief that its all over, if he wins or he loses.
In the end it isn't the invention thats important, its simply the struggle of moving forth against the big guy. And its rather uplifting watching Bob finally overcome the obstacles of the big corporation and having his minute. And its sad to see how much Bob loses in order to finally gain. "Flash of Genius" isn't a new type of story in any way, but its terrific lead performance by Kinnear holds the movie up, and it becomes a worthwhile film to see that will easily get lost in the early fall shuffle.