Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Theory of Everything: Film Review

The Theory of Everything: Film Review


Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis
Director: James Marsh

The Theory of Everything (complete with Oscar nominations for Redmayne and writer and Kiwi Anthony McCarten) is the story of Stephen Hawking, an extraordinary life and the love between Hawking and his wife Jane (the also Oscar-nominated Felicity Jones).

Starting with Hawking's life at uni, the story weaves in love with Hawking's attraction to the apparently opposite Jane (she believes in a God, he doesn't) before threatening to derail this love story with the crippling diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease.

Fresh from Golden Globes success for Eddie Redmayne and now an Oscar nomination, The Theory of Everything is already starting to gain critical mass as it circles the front-runner for awards season.

It's easy to see why - the prestige biopic has an unbelievable lead who transcends and transforms into the role of Stephen Hawking so easily that you barely notice any more that it's Redmayne. (It's a similar transformation which Daniel Day Lewis achieved in My Left Foot way back when)

Which is a good - and bad - thing here.

From Redmayne's initial appearance as the Austin Powers-like Oxbridge boy through to the chair-bound Hawking, he's a commanding presence, pulling in some of the more mischievous elements of the physicist (a sly wit, an obsession with Penthouse) and giving more than he ever could with just a few facial twitches or movements. There's no denying the commitment to and transformation of the role here and no taking away from the fact that Redmayne's performance will be hard to beat this year.

Equally, Felicity Jones brings a subtlety as Hawking's wife Jane. Hers is a turn of quiet compassion, growing frustration and aching sympathy as Jane deals with every blow that comes her way during this relationship piece. In fact, it's really a film of two halves with the first half being Hawking's story and the second being all about Jane as she fights an attraction to a helper and a growing chasm in her marriage.

But curiously, the performances are perhaps the two elements that shine out in what really is a well-polished but incredibly ordinary movie; it has a warmth and heart but doesn't have the emotional pull that you'd expect or hope for when studying such an inspirational life as it goes through all the emotional moments like a checklist.

The beats of the story follow the well-worn and predictable path of telemovie fodder (there's good news and then the next shot sees something bad threaten to derail it all) as it treads the path of convention. This is not necessarily a bad thing given how beautifully shot and framed it all is, but in among all the loveliness and transcendant performances, the slavish mawkish elements of the script and storyline (replete with piano music here and there) unfortunately conspire to try and ground two stellar performances in tropes that you've seen all too often. (Though a sequence where Stephen's trying to talk to Jane at the end and be his most honest is heartbreaking given that it can only be done through a computer)

While not packing quite the emotional pull you'd come to expect, The Theory of Everything is buoyed by two terrific performances that helps elevate the prestige and beautifully shot flick from the predictably sentimental story.

Rating:


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