If The Theory of Everything tells us anything, it isn’t that God doesn’t exist. It doesn’t tell us that a great mind can accomplish wonders. It doesn’t tell a powerful story of a moving figure in an emotionally resonant type of fashion. No, if James Marsh’s new biopic teaches us anything, it’s that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences cares more about a film’s topical subject as opposed to the quality of a film itself. This movie, now up for five Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score), is merely a feeble, by-the-books life study that chooses to bring the events (tragic and advantageous) of physicist Stephen Hawking’s life to the screen in a manner that is almost completely void of authentic emotion.
I say “almost” completely void because there is some authentic emotion, but it isn’t contained within or expressed through the script, which is written with such familiarity and troublesome clichéd tendencies that it becomes predictable even for those who don’t know about Stephen Hawking (do those people even exist?) No, the authentic emotion comes from the two leading performances, both of which are equally deserving of their Oscar nominations. As Hawking, Eddie Redmayne (My Week with Marilyn, Les Miserables) is a star-studded marvel, deftly going from successfully capturing the intelligent and nerdy outcast qualities of his character’s early life, and then turning in remarkable work in the film’s second half after the unwelcome arrival of motor neuron disease. There were times when I questioned whether it was actually Hawking himself sitting in that wheelchair, and that is a testament to a marvelous, stand-up-and-cheer worthy performance. Give that guy the Oscar.
I imagine it difficult for anyone to match up to a performance like Redmayne’s mainly because no one in the film has to commit to such a level of physical acting, but Felicity Jones comes close. She plays Jane Wilde Hawking, the cosmologist’s first wife and longtime companion, and she is terrific. As Redmayne’s physically burdened scientist requires more and more attention, the burden also proves to be heavy on Jane’s shoulders, and Felicity’ s performance captures that weight wondrously. Even in the film’s earlier scenes, the two performers do a fine job at taking the mediocre and clichéd script and using their acting capabilities to make it better than it would be with any less dedicated stars.
But if you take away the strong performances, you aren’t left with much more. Benoît Delhomme’s cinematography looks good, sometimes capturing exploding fireworks and background lighting in beautiful and elegant ways, but that’s where the line is drawn. Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds in recent history, and his story is one that deserves the best possible treatment, but The Theory of Everything isn’t it. It’s a melodramatic lump of clichés that is (almost) saved by two ground shattering performances.
2 hr. 3 min.
Rated PG-13 for for some thematic elements and suggestive material
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones
Written by Anthony McCarten
Directed by James Marsh