Movie Review: The Theory of Everything

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A biopic that explores the life of Stephen Hawking.

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James Marsh, 2014

A brilliant cosmologist studying at Cambridge, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) breezes past his peers, though he’s unfocused and aimless, not sure of what he wants to do with his life. At a party, he meets arts student Jane (Felicity Jones), and proceeds with some posh awkward flirting for a while. One day Wilde, on his way to deliver a mathematical theory, he trips and hits his head at school. The doctors tell him he has a motor neuron disease, and give him two years to live. Though Stephen tries to push her away, Jane decides to spend whatever time Stephen has left with him, and they are soon married. Under Jane’s patient care, Stephen continues his work despite his increasing impairments, and the two of them start a family. As he makes discoveries that challenge the scientific world, the challenges facing Stephen and Jane in their home life test the determined couple to their core.

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Simply put, there’s no way this film would be receiving the attention it is if it weren’t for the title performances. It’s a mawkish and amateurish affair that’s only about as good as a decent made-for-TV movie, and is probably better suited to the small screen. Its episodic structure is extremely average, hitting all the major moments in the lives of the Hawkings without having too much to say about most of them. Some such moments – their wedding, the birth of one of their children – are presented in rose-tinted vintage-style montages that are eye-rollingly dull. I often wished for something else to do while the movie plodded along undeterred. The Oscar-nominated tinkly piano score by Johann Johannsson (who also wrote the score for Foxcatcher, which may explain my disdain) does nothing to enhance the film, and there are very few really well-shot moments. It’s sentimental in the extreme, and in spite of the difficult subject matter it doesn’t seem interested in really exploring the hard topics. While it starts out as Stephen’s story, it loses track of his voice somewhere in the second act, and becomes almost entirely about Jane’s perspective. That makes the late shift back to Stephen’s point of view weird and jarring. We only really get his point of view at the beginning and end of the film, which creates a lack of depth.

Having said all that, good lord Redmayne and Jones knock it out of the park in this movie. Felicity Jones portrays Jane’s incredible determination and strength admirably. She goes through some truly terrible hairstyles and make-up, but throughout the movie her Jane is our access point to the story. She is relateable, flawed, and tough. There’s a moment early in the movie where Jane mentions that people assume she isn’t strong based on how she looks, and she proceeds to prove them all wrong time and time again. Meanwhile, Eddie Redmayne transforms completely to play Stephen Hawking, but that’s not the real strength of his performance. His ability to not only inhabit a person who is familiar to so many people, but to bring his spirit alive on screen, is the real reason that this is a genuinely great performance. It would be easy to lose sight of Hawking’s humour and humanity in the parade of indignities thrown at him, but that personality is exactly what Redmayne portrays the most clearly. It would be great if the filmmakers had more faith in his abilities and had allowed him to tell more of the story, but it is what it is. There’s also some solid support from Harry Lloyd, David Thewlis, and Charlie Cox’s dimples. Catch it when it’s on TV to see some great performances.

The Theory of Everything on IMDb

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