NOTE: To make up for their being no Mini-Review Mondays post this week or last week and to make up for not post Oscar reviews before the Oscars aired, I will be reviewing the Oscar nominees over the next week.
Astrophysicist student Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) attends a party at Cambridge University where he meets his future wife Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), a Cambridge student of literature. Their interests and religious views couldn’t be more different. Their majors share nothing in common and Jane believes in God while Stephen is a steadfast atheist. The two somehow gain a connection and fall in love. Unfortunately while Stephen is working on his college thesis on time and black holes, his body begins showing signs of motor neuron disease. It’s an illness that won’t effect his brain but will eventually lead to total loss of body control. Stephen’s doctor gives him only two years to live. Jane doesn’t give up on Stephen and the two stay together, get married, and have children. But taking care of a husband with such a debilitating disease isn’t easy, as Jane finds out.
You have to be careful when making a biography, autobiography, documentary, etc. that you don’t fall into the deadly trap of just writing out or filming a list of events. Saying basically “this happened, then this happened, then this happened,” and so on an so forth until the audience realizes you aren’t saying anything at all about what happened to the subject, you’re describing what happened on given dates.
The Theory of Everything suffers from this mistake for its first half. Stephen meets Jane while both are attending Cambridge, they start going out, Stephen decides his school thesis will be about time, he starts suffering from motor neuron disease, he gets married and has a child, and, while watching all of this, I didn’t feel like the screenplay was telling me anything about either Stephen or Jane. We do learn about their major differences and interests, but what else? Yeah, I could do better on a Hawking quiz after watching the film, but what is the theme? What is the movie trying to say about the two and their unusual love story?
There’s also little drama at first. I know that sounds odd when we’re talking about a bio-film where a man loses the ability to control almost every part of his body. Barring the initial discovery of Stephen’s illness, there isn’t much conflict, though. Things seem to be going pretty well for our protagonists as they fall in love and do well in college. Even the beginning of the motor neuron disease comes off as only a minor speed bump in Stephen and Jane’s relationship. It’s all pretty lovey-dovey and feel good, which is nice for my hopeless romantic side but my interest was waning by the time the wedding rolled around. No one is probably going to agree with me on this point so I should probably move on.
The movie actually gets better, not great but better, when Stephen and Jane start having their first marital problems after Jane gets worn down by the responsibility of taking care of Stephen, studying, and watching over their children. I won’t go into all the drama that goes on but it’s handled well. It is a tad depressing given that I thought this would be a more upbeat love story than what it is, but I knew nothing about Hawking’s personal life and little about the film itself before seeing The Theory of Everything so that’s probably my fault and not the movie’s.
While most of the film is pretty standard (or at least nothing new will stick out to you), Eddie Redmayne deserves all the praise he is getting for his physical transformation into Hawking. He wasn’t my favorite of the Best Actor nominees but it’s hard to criticize an actor who can do so much with a character who at one point in the movie cannot speak for himself nor barely move on his own. Redmayne elevates the whole film from something skippable to a movie worth watching.
The Theory of Everything isn’t Best Picture material but it’s worth seeing for Eddie Redmayne. I only wish it was more engaging and illuminating in the beginning and less depressing near the end. As a biopic for Hawking, it’s not bad. You’ll certainly learn a lot about him and his relationship with Jane, but don’t expect anything out of this world.