Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review: The Theory of Everything

Image courtesy of Focus Features.
It is just slightly ironic that the movie released this week about which Stephen Hawking might be most likely to relate is not "The Theory of Everything," a bio film about his life, but rather Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar," an often wondrous sci-fi spectacle about intergalactic travel and black holes.

This is not to imply that "Theory" isn't good - it is, but in the way that most bio pics that aim to accurately capture the lives of their subjects are. Hawking - who authored "A Brief History of Time" and set forth a cosmology that combined the theory of relativity with quantum mechanics - is a brilliant man and a scientific innovator and James Marsh's film takes great pains to ensure us of this fact, but also to place a significant amount of emphasis on his unusual relationship with his wife.

The early scenes between Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane (Felicity Jones) are among the best as the two flirt and create a friendship that blossoms into romance. The filmmakers spend much time and energy chronicling Hawking's difficult existence as a result of his being afflicted with ALS. Jane is the stalwart wife and nurse, taking care of her husband and raising their three children, that is, until she falls for a male choir teacher and Hawking himself takes a shine to his speech therapist.

One of the film's faults is how it portrays the Hawking's romantic trysts as having worked out just peachy with little drama. The manner in which their foibles is handled is more suggestive of Hollywood screen-writing than real life. And there's a disconnect in presenting how the two no longer felt romantically inclined toward each other, all the while insisting on showing that they remained good friends.

Regardless, while "The Theory of Everything" is a by-the-numbers bio in its presentation, the performances are strong. Redmayne has mostly played supporting roles - most recently in "Les Miserables" - but here he makes a strong case for leading man material. It's a very challenging role and Redmayne not only gets Hawking's physical tics down impressively, but he also brings a level of humanity to the role, which includes little dialogue during its second half. And although Jane Hawking becomes a bit of an under-written character during the picture's later scenes, Jones does her justice.

"The Theory of Everything" may end up being just be a good movie about a brilliant man, but the people inhabiting its characters are exceptional. And for them alone, it's worth a watch.

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