The 400-Word Review: The Theory of Everything
By Sean Collier
December 1, 2014
It’s a ho-hum story, really: boy meets girl, boy wins girl’s heart, boy discovers the nature of the universe, boy and girl drift apart.
Granted, that third part is key — but not enough to carry a picture.
In The Theory of Everything, we’re given a window into the mind and heart of brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking (played here by Eddie Redmayne) via his relationship with first wife Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). Hawking is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease (similar but not identical to ALS) soon after he meets the young woman at Cambridge; she declares that despite a very bleak prognosis for Stephen, their love is strong enough to withstand the decay and tragedy that will define Hawking’s life.
The headline-grabbing attraction here is the performance given by Redmayne, nearly unrecognizable when compared to his role as the handsome Marius in 2012’s Les Miserables. Redmayne convincingly recreates the circumstances of Hawking’s illness and deterioration, acting only via small facial movements by the film’s conclusion. And despite early Oscar buzz — okay, Oscar nomination buzz — I can’t help but feel that the performance was undoubtedly difficult, but in no way profound.
And it’s not deliberate that I avoid talking about Jones; while her offering is more industrious than inspired, she certainly does well enough. The secret, though, is that despite nominally being about a relationship and the brilliance it inspired, The Theory of Everything is a half-cocked biopic masquerading as an ageless love story. Accordingly, Jane is badly underwritten and never allowed to control the narrative.
Director James Marsh capably performs CPR on the flatlining script, reviving it long enough for admirable cinematographer Benoît Delhomme to glaze every frame in bleeding light. The below-the-line work is game enough to render the film pleasant to watch — but then again, many fundamentally hollow things are pleasant enough to look at.
Of course, Hawking’s life did not end at an early age; despite being given two years to live at the time of his diagnosis, Hawking is alive today. The story of The Theory of Everything, then, is not one of a universe-changing love affair, or of a brilliant mind; it’s the slightly depressing tale of a relationship that lasted far longer than a couple had bargained for. As profound as Jane’s influence on Stephen undoubtedly was, the story is in the science — and not in this unremarkable film.
My Rating: 5/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark