Release: Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Written by: Anthony McCarten
Directed by: James Marsh
If you want to talk ambition, meet British director James Marsh. He once thought it realistic to stuff everything Stephen Hawking-related into a two-hour romantic drama. There are obvious issues with such a strategy. Not so obvious perhaps are the compromises he’s made in producing something worth watching.
Or, maybe they are. Either way, it looks like it will still be some time before we get the definitive guide on the inner workings of one of the greatest minds this world has and likely will ever see.
Marsh (Man on Wire; Shadow Dancer) blends elements of the standard biopic with those of a romantic drama while infusing the production with at least the pretense of science. More often than not intellectual stimulation is sacrificed in favor of powerful emotional recoil at the sight of a body enduring prolonged deterioration. Yes, the experience fails to manifest as an interesting journey as much as a heartrending commitment to watching what we already are aware has happened. But it’s a perfectly inoffensive approach all the same.
Considering the number of similar films attempting to fashion glamorous takes on the lives of many an ill-fated genius or savant — Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind being one of the most memorable in recent years — it’s hard not to feel the nagging tension of having been there, done that this time around. Howard’s muse happened to be brilliant economist John Forbes Nash. The crux of that particular film revolved around schizophrenia and how it nearly eroded the passionate love shared between an ailing Nash and his fiercely determined wife Alicia Lardé. Fast-forward to 2014 and you simply change the variables. The constants remain, though: bodily dysfunction, emotional trauma, and the very human ability to somehow ignore and even triumph over it all.
The Theory of Everything plays out like the autobiography Professor Hawking will probably never write. (That’s not intended as a cruel joke, in any way, shape or form. I simply just don’t envision this man ever writing one.) And by rights, it should. While camera angles hew intimately to Hawking’s views of the world, it’s his first wife whose work has most directly inspired this particular Oscar-hopeful. Adapted from her memoir ‘Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,’ the film logically detours away from the scientific to focus on the romantic aspects of a life less ordinary.
Leaning on mush and sentimentality does not crush Marsh’s project, luckily enough. After all, he has been afforded a pair of breathtaking performances in the form of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. The pair of young performers will seem inseparable after this. In the last several weeks, a certain someone has been knocking on this blog’s door with more questions about whom he should consider grooming next for the big stage in the Dolby Theatre. Now it would seem to be the young and freckled Londoner’s turn to be called upon. What he accomplishes in Theory is nothing short of revelatory in practice.
Twisted, pained expressions dominate Redmayne’s facial features for the film’s later stages, a development made all the more heartbreaking when given his cheerful, exquisitely nerdy countenance early on. It’s one aspect of the film that absolutely demanded perfection regardless of the surrounding material or narrative flow. Redmayne understood this and courageously ran with what will down the road be described as one of his career’s most challenging and daring decisions.
This is also Felicity Jones’ finest hour. She is a force to be reckoned with alongside the towering Redmayne, channeling her inner Jennifer Connelly appropriately. As Jane Wilde, Jones exudes strength and bravery in a situation that would surely demolish both in any ordinary mortal. There is nothing theoretical about the performances here. The film radiates sincerity and the rapport between Jones and Redmayne single-handedly elevates a somewhat pedestrian narrative. That much is most certainly clear.
What’s less clear is how much Marsh actually appreciates Hawking himself. Regrettably The Theory of Everything ends terribly. The final scenes threaten to drown out any sense of originality on the subject, as the narrative merges with the collective populace’s impressions of the guy: he’s no doubt an inspiration. But we know this already. That’s why there’s now several movies made about him. These last shots may resonate, but they resonate for the wrong reasons. It becomes evident in Theory‘s awkwardly sweeping yet rushed conclusion (why do these stories always end in big auditoriums or conference halls?) Marsh doesn’t want to put too fine a point on the harsh reality of Stephen’s triumph. He doesn’t want to betray the public perception of the iconic wheelchair-bound professor.
That’s why he saves one of the film’s most inspiring lines for the very last moment. Too bad I can’t say the same for this review.
Recommendation: Arguably laden with cheese and sentiment, The Theory of Everything features a lot of heartbreak and cold science (of at least the medical variety) to help try to balance the equation. Two incredible performances help stabilize it a little more, though ultimately this is a movie that belongs on the Hallmark channel more than anywhere else. This is a light year away from being a bad film, but it’s just as far from being original or truly moving.
Running Time: 123 mins.
Quoted: “There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com
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Ya know, I felt very similar to you about this movie, Tom! I feel like it is very been HERE, done THAT already. Of course A Beautiful Mind comes to mind. But I agree that the performances rise above the rest of the film, especially Eddie Redmayne’s. No doubt it was the most challenging performance he has given so far.
Redmayne and Jones are award-worthy, no doubt. Just wished the screenplay didn’t dawdle so much around the romance engine — we get it. In order for someone to have any hope of rising above such trying circumstances, they’re going to likely need a helping hand. But. . .I don’t know. This all felt so rushed and formulaic and overall unsatisfying. But yes, the performances I’m not likely to get over for some time. They’re outstanding. I almost feel like the Oscar should go to Redmayne for his lead role. he is that good.
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I agree with you on Redmayne! I think he was easily the best part of the whole film!
This honestly looks so freaking boring to me. I doubt that I’ll ever sit down and decide to sit through this shit. I enjoy eating cheese a lot more than I do watching it (Unless it is of the horror or action stink). But you make great points and certainly make it sound half-decent…good job as always TOM!
Cheese is good sometimes man. See: stilton, brie, sharp cheddar, even provolone.
Let’s dispense with the humor though for a second: I”m tired of these big-ass films with huge names in the lead becoming a big-old excuse to turn on the water works because we all now have instant access to these people’s lives (i.e. Stephen Hawking just recently joined Facebook, now the whole world can pretend like we know him on that level.) This movie seemed to try to bring us to that level. Like it was trying to get us to know Hawking on a very intimate level.
Let’s get one thing straight: that will never happen. Stephen Hawking, as a mind, is in a league all his own. He’s a genius. We’re lucky to have him.
Superb review mate. Intrigued by this one. I kinda feel like it could be brilliant or cheesy schmaltz. The Imitation Game went the same way and just about stayed on the right side of schmaltz, hopefully this does too.
For me The Theory trended more into the schmaltz territory. I’m sorry, but the fact this is based upon his wife’s account just doesn’t justify the tone here. While there’s absolutely no getting around how good the leads are here, the movie just fails to engage properly. I wanted this to be so much better. And to be perfectly honest, this isn’t a bad movie by any means. But this as it stands I don’t think is Oscar material, as much as it wants to be.
Of course, the Academy are likely to be bowled over by it. Mostly by the fact they managed to attract really good-looking performers for the roles here.
Just read this, and wow, we’re both in relative lockstep with this one, right down to desensitization. But like you and others said, this will get much love during nominations, and it should for its performances.
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Yeah, haha I did notice that. Very similar reviews. Great minds think alike! 😀 I agree that it should get recognition in the coming weeks/months. Eddie Redmayne is just too good. so is Felicity Jones. I would be surprised if both win something, as I think Redmayne is facing battle with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom, while Felicity Jones has to take on the slightly less-intimidating hurdle of getting past Rosamund Pike’s Amy Dunne. Gonna be very interesting to see how it plays out for sure!
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“Cheese”, “Belongs on the Hallmark channel “ “Formulaic” Ouch!! I must’ve seen a different movie. I was incredibly moved by Eddie Redmayne’s performance. I think you’ll see he has a legitimate chance of actually taking the award this year. I know. I know. Michael Keaton’s is the favorite (and he’s good too) but what Redmayne does here is extraordinary.
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I too loved his performance! 😀
I think I noted how good he is (along with Felicity Jones) a couple of times, but in the grand scheme of things this story and its generally Saving Mr. Banks-esque respectful tone really just didn’t cut it for me. I’d be OK with Mr. Redmayne receiving more than a nomination. I would like to make that very clear. The acting ain’t the issue here
I’m curious about this one but w/ the busy December month, I probably would end up renting this. Great review here Tom!
Cheers Ruth, it’s nothing you’ll really regret missing on the big screen. 🙂 A solid, solid rental for sure. I must recommend for Eddie Redmayne alone. Anticipating some love for him come February.
Good review, mate. From the sound of it, this looks like an Oscar bait… Might check it out if it turned out to be one of the nominations 😛
Hey man thanks kindly!
Man, I go back and read this now and think I am a bit harsh on it. It’s definitely a good movie. It does play very hard for the Oscars and on that ground alone I can’t (and shouldn’t) dismiss it, but there was a whole lot of glossing over of a lot of things in Hawking’s life that I trhought would have been interesting to see dramatized. Obviously his wedlock with Jane Wilde was fundamentally key for his perseverance, but man. Something just felt missing here.
Find review Tom. I was on my way to see this today but sick kid duty kicked in. Anxious to give it a watch.
Ah yes, priorities always man! Gotta see to them first. 🙂 Hope everyone’s alright, and that you do get around to seeing this movie despite my inability to find it more than a pedestrian timeline of events. It’s incredibly well-acted though. And that gets me more than eager to see a young Redmayne possibly getting recognized for his efforts. Jones, too.
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This is getting big buzz here in the UK unsurprisingly. Six slices isn’t anything to be sniffed at, although it sounds like it could and should have been even better. It does rather scream “gimme an Oscar” doesn’t it?
😀 This stupid pie rating scale has got me pretty muddled up my man. It’s like, one film I will feel the 6 doesn’t do it justice at all but cranking it up one more to 7 would also sound too generous; while other times 6 sounds uber-positive. Lol. I’ll figure it out at some stage. I hope.
Meanwhile, I think this film was perfectly palatable, but it’s not much more. I was hoping for (clearly) much more. Redmayne is tremendous though. A real challenge to Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom I’m afraid.
I will say that this, unlike A Beautiful Mind, actually did try to explain the work of its subject in layman’s terms. It was certainly obvious with the fork and food, but I appreciated the effort. Otherwise, I basically only appreciated the performance (and it would appear you felt the same).
Interesting perspective dude. I was actually thinking quite the opposite. I felt ABM helped communicate some of the complexities of Nash’s thought processes and what he was ultimately going to contribute to in his career. But you’re right, I think mostly Howard glossed over a lot of the very very technical aspects of the mathematics and such. I felt it was more genuinely presented in that film than the math and science surrounding (and often being generated from) Stephen Hawking. But I may have to give this another watch at some point to confirm that.
Movie’s very solid, even if formulaic. You’re right, we’re pretty much got the most out of the two cracking lead performances. Which works for me. 🙂
Yout thoughts echo exactly what I thought when I saw this film about. Too much sentimentality and not enough focus on the man and his unique mind.
Though you did give it high score, maybe worth a rental.. Tho I really usually dislike romantic, sentimental films for whatever reason.
Probably ‘cos I’m a lonely bastard ha!
Nicely written mate
Haha! likewise pal, likewise. 😉
But in seriousness, I might have to clarify, b/c I hate to color this film as a completely mushy-gushy, Katherine Heigl-esque soap opera, but it’s not hard science either. And this reviewer might have been a bit hard on this film in that regard. But I came in with certain expectations which I thought were somewhat reasonable.
The high score comes from (mostly) the performances. Redmayne and Jones together are wondrous. I’d say go see this on that basis alone. I have no problem saying that. 🙂
Great review Tom. I agree that the formula isn’t very original, but the amazing performances by the two leads helps make up for that (a bit at least)
Heard ya loud and clear Rob, that’s exactly what my impressions were. I was a little let down by having to accept this as what it was, but hey. It’s incredibly well-acted. I think the Academy is going to notice as well.
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