The Theory of Everything

Theory 01

Directed by David Marsh
Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
Review:  3.5 stars (of five)

The Theory of Everything is a decently engaging biopic whose main flaw–not getting deep enough into either the importance of Stephen Hawking’s science or the mechanics of a powerful love–is mitigated by terrific performances from its lead actors.

Eddie Redmayne is amazing as Hawking, from doctoral student on the verge of physical decline to utterly immobilized genius, that astonishing mind trapped in a twisted, mute body.  There are three phases to Redmayne’s performance. At the film’s beginning, he’s charming and funny, geeky and abstracted, and physically ungainly.  His off-kilter physicality begins to hint at the decline to come.  As motor-neuron disease eats away at Hawking’s mobility, we can’t help but be amazed at the actor’s physical performance.  Then, when Hawking is all but frozen in his motorized wheelchair, we forget Redmayne entirely, forget that it’s a performance, and simply watch what is.  It’s, again, amazing.

Theory 02Felicity Jones (Like Crazy, and eventually Amazing Spider-Man 3) plays Hawking’s wife, Jane Wilde, from whose memoir this film is adapted.  When they meet at a college dance, Jones is perfectly heartbreaking.  When I remember all the awkward, nervous girls I knew when I was an awkward, nervous boy, I inaccurately remember them all as her, exactly as she is in this film.  The arc of her maturity through the film, as she struggles to stand by the increasingly ill Hawking, whose survival well beyond a two-year projection is just this side of miraculous, is at the core of the film.

Which is where the film’s focus on the love story is at its weakest.  Jones falls in love with Hawking somewhat off the scripted page, and stands by him for no reason beyond that she loves him.  Which is reason enough, but the story should have done a better job of establishing this truly extraordinary love that is at the core of the film.  It also seems that her support of Hawking is driven by an awareness of his genius, of the importance of his contribution to science, but since the film reduces the man’s career to a shifting debate over whether contemplating the Big Bang obviates the concept of God, that aspect, too, is underplayed.

Because these extraordinary aspects of the story are not fully realized, the movie plays out a little too conventionally to suit its extraordinary subjects.  Where this lets us down, however, Jones and Redmayne shine among an all-around strong cast (including a sad, noble Charlie Cox), and the direction of James Marsh is confident and quietly stylish, with a remarkable period feel.  Their work makes up for the deficits in Anthony McCarten’s script, which depicts love, but does not illuminate it. I wish I could give the film a stronger recommendation, because there’s some stellar work here, and the performances alone make it well worth seeing.