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Overall Rating

Awesome: 5.26%
Worth A Look78.95%
Average: 5.26%
Pretty Bad: 10.53%
Total Crap: 0%

2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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Theory of Everything, The (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"Honestly, we don't admire Stephen Hawking enough."
4 stars

Stephen Hawking's life story is extraordinary, but not necessarily cinematic - its milestones are often losing the ability to do things, and his accomplishments can be difficult for laymen to understand. So what do you do? In this case, try and let the audience know a guy whose public face is often inscrutable, as well as hs wife.

The film picks up in 1963, when Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was a Ph.D candidate at Cambridge; not the most hard-working but one of the brightest. Some things are looking up - he's just met Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones), an arts major who may fancy him back, and his thesis advisor Dennis Sciama (David Thewlis) has brought him to a talk that inspires him. But a stumble in the middle of campus reveals the really bad news: He suffers from motor neuron disease, which will eventually destroy his voluntary nervous system, and the usual prognosis is two years.

It's somewhat unfair to frame the story entirely in terms of Stephen Hawking, especially since it is Alice's memoir that is being adapted to film. And, certainly, while it is often Stephen's activities and illness that shape the story, it's often seen from Alice's perspective - the difficulty of caring for a man in his condition, the temptations she would face. It can sometimes feel odd when the perspective shifts, but telling the story from her point of view grounds things, and Felicity Jones does a nice job in growing Jane from the naive student to someone who handles big challenges.

Of course, it's inevitably going to be Eddie Redmayne's performance as Stephen that audiences remember, and it would be hard to blame them. Screenwriter Anthony McCarten makes sure we see Hawking as not just brilliant and/or brave, but also as very funny if at times immature, and Redmayne plays into that, really establishing the man's personality strongly enough that it endures even as the physical tools he has to express himself decrease. There are times when being forced into that restraint seems to do him some good - some of his physical stumbles at the start seem like heavy-handed foreshadowing, but by the time the film is in its second half, it becomes pretty amazing what Redmayne can do with the raising of an eyebrow and the curling of a lip. It's a winning performance that never goes for pity.

Part of that, I think, is because McCarten and director James Marsh focus on just watching their characters in situations that are both relatable and those that become so because we've seen the moments just a stop or so away. There's humor amid the hardship, and the supporting cast members stumble through in ways that feel very genuine. The injection of a handsome widower (Charlie Cox) into the Hawkings' life has the film playing a little push and pull, later echoed a bit with Stephen's in-home nurse (Maxine Peake); Marsh seems to enjoy making something look like a flaunted affair even if it's not yet near that point,putting obvious jealousies out there and making them kind of charming because he's established everyone as mature enough to handle them well.

There are enough charming and believable moments floating around that it's okay if maybe some of the larger themes aren't handled perfectly. There's a clumsiness to how the contrast between Jane's religious faith and Stephen's determined atheism is handled, like the filmmakers want it to be more important than it really is. The science is sometimes shoehorned in oddly, and the decision for Stephen to write a popular science book when his work is so advanced and the only prior scene about his ability to communicate that way suggested he wasn't very good at it is treated as a big thing that happened and must be mentioned, but not a part of the story that comes from somewhere. A major event is treated with such English reserve and good manners that the viewer might not quite realize what had happened until the ending text (amusingly, the thread that leads to it starts with Jane eye-rollingly calling something the most English thing ever said).

That's allowable, though; trying to force a life to fit the way movies communicate with their audiences takes some doing, and signs that this isn't natural are welcome. Getting to know Stephen Hawking and the people around him a bit is the real treat; he's a guy it's easy to admire on multiple fronts, and it's cool to see that there's a lot to like as well.

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originally posted: 11/17/14 16:54:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/15/16 Ionicera kind of blah but Redmayne was good 3 stars
8/28/15 ER Well-acted. Too watered down. 4 stars
8/16/15 Dr. Lao The understated performances are very effective. Too bad the science was so dumbed down 4 stars
3/01/15 stanley welles a glossier version of the kind of film the lifetime network shows every month 2 stars
2/22/15 Luisa great acting by both lead actors, oscar worthy film! 5 stars
1/27/15 Langano Good film about the life of a great man. 4 stars
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  07-Nov-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 17-Feb-2015

  01-Jan-2015 (12A)

  DVD: 17-Feb-2015

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