So this is the man I learned so much from with my Speak & Spell. Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones and David Thewlis star in The Theory of Everything.
Cast of Characters:
Stephen Hawking – Eddie Redmayne
Jane Wilde Hawking – Felicity Jones
Jonathan Jones – Charlie Cox
Beryl Wilde – Emily Watson
Frank Hawking – Simon McBurney
Dennis Sciama – David Thewlis
Director – James Marsh
Screenplay – Anthony McCarten
Based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Wilde Hawking
Producer – Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce & Anthony McCarten
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material
While studying for his doctorate at the University of Cambridge, cosmologist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) meets Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) at a student party. Over time, the two fall in love, but during the course of his relationship with Jane and his studies at Cambridge, Hawking receives an earth-shattering diagnosis: motor neuron disease (his is related to ALS, which is commonly referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”). The doctors give him no longer than two years to live, but with Jane by his side, he defies the odds of his disease while continues his ambitious life’s work.
Putting aside what Stephen Hawking has done as a physicist, just his battle with the disease that debilitated him for life alone would make a compelling film. Director James Marsh and cinematographer Benoit Delhomme provide a beautiful, polished picture and the performances are first-rate; however, for a man that defied his medical odds and colleagues within his field, The Theory of Everything is unfortunately a rather unexceptional and tame film.
Marsh, who won an Oscar for his fascinating documentary Man on Wire, is an inventive filmmaker, which is why it’s such a letdown as to why he’d wanna play it safe (maybe due to the film’s cooperation of Stephen and Jane) with a biopic based on one of the most influential men of the past 50 years. Marsh and writer Anthony McCarten, adapting from Jane Wilde’s memoir, focus on the relationship between Stephen and Jane, so this is more a love story between the two with his work as a physicist playing second fiddle. That’s perfectly fine since Jane was a large part of his life, but it’s no secret that their marriage was strained and complicated. This is a couple that got married believing they only had a few years left together, and it ended up turning into decades. Frustration and exhaustion is inevitable, but we only go skin deep into how overwhelmed they’ve must’ve felt.
The closest we get to seeing that burden is a brief scene involving Jane working on her thesis in the kitchen, looking up to see Stephen and the kids goofing around, and realizing no one could care less about her own struggles. It’s an well-acted, effective moment that captures the heavy weight she must’ve felt, but the film still barely scratches the surface.
In fairness, we do see the dissolution of their marriage, but a good portion of the more controversial aspects of it are either left by the wayside or just briefly touched on. I’m not saying I needed Marsh to crucify the two, but at the same time it’s as if he was trying so hard to tiptoe on eggshells in order to be overly-respectful of them. Complications such as the romances on the side both Stephen and Jane had, and the tensions that arose from his atheism and her Christianity could’ve given this film that “warts and all” punch that propel the best biopics. Yet Marsh and McCarten only gloss over them, possibly in an attempt to be easy Oscar bait for the voters.
Essentially, this film is like the one kid, out of a group of schoolmates getting picked for teams on recess, that jumps excitedly up and down going, “Pick me! Pick me!”
Still, this film is not a lost cause and that’s thanks to the magnificent performances from Eddie Redmayne (taking a page from the Daniel Day-Lewis My Left Foot school of acting) and Felicity Jones. Jones is deserving, but may be a long shot for Supporting Actress; however, I would not be surprised in the least if Redmayne locks up a Best Actor nod for his physically demanding turn as the iconic physicist. By the third act, his performance relies solely on facial body language such as eye movement and the occasional smile, and it truly is remarkable acting. That both he and Jones are able to transcend above the conventional material that they’re working with shows a skill level of acting that I had yet to see from either of them. It’s just a shame that we can only imagine how much better the film would be if their performances were supported by a stronger script.
Despite two award worthy performances from Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything chooses the safe storytelling route, committing the worst sin a biopic can make by being nothing more than just average. Redmayne’s physical transformation is brilliant, but it’s a marvelous show of acting skill deserving of much better material than the underwhelming narrative that’s shown.
I give The Theory of Everything a C+ (★★½).
REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…
12/1/14 What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
12/2/14 Benjamin’s Stash