A couple weeks ago, The Daily Beast asked the question Why Can’t Movies Capture Genius?, looking at the recent cluster of British biopics Mr Turner, The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything and considering how difficult it is to convey genius without being burdened by overblown exposition.
The chief success of Reaching for the Moon is how comfortably it sidesteps this problem. Bruno Barreto’s film depicts the love affair between two women who are certainly geniuses – American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires). It’s less interested in conveying the immensity of Bishop’s talent or the grandeur of Soares’ creations – though it touches on each of these – than presenting a modest portrait of a flawed but intense relationship.
It’s not a perfect film – its essentially undramatic approach is not for everyone, and the occasional attempts to stray outside the bubble of privilege containing its characters is unfortunately hamhanded. But by focusing less on the achievements of these woman than the texture and tenor of their lives, Reaching for the Moon’s gentle plotlessness succeeds in suggesting the shape and scope of a human life, rather than attempting (and failing) to encapsulate intimidating genius.