The Theory of Everything

Up next is a look at The Theory of Everything, James Marsh’s biographical romantic drama about Stephen Hawking. Starring Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, and Tom Prior, The Theory of Everything is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and suggestive material.

The Theory of Everything is the story of genius Stephen Hawking and the relationship with his wife Jane, as they experience Hawking’s fight with ALS together.

7 out of 10

I think I’ve said on numerous occasions before that I am a sucker for romance films. But this one was different. They all had accents, there was a lot of math and physics involved- really just a bunch of things that set this movie up to be pure boredom for me. Essentially, I was prepared for two hours of stodgy, stereotypical biopic film-making. While this was definitely true at points, The Theory of Everything proved to be a solid film, large in part to its exceptionally strong lead actors.

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The first thing I saw Eddie Redmayne in was Les Miserables where he played Marius, and was actually pretty good. I remember being impressed with how genuine he was (which I guess is what acting is). My point is, that’s the trait that most stood out to me in his turn as legendary physicist Stephen Hawking. You could tell how hard he was fighting. His humanity was still evident, despite the almost supernatural persona Hawking has grown into. Redmayne is the perfect combination of intelligent, charming and visceral in a performance that would usually be good enough to be considered a lock for Best Actor, if not for Michael Keaton. That’s not to say he won’t win, in fact I think he’s the favorite. He’s just not a lock.

And his opposite, Felicity Jones, was superb. The first thing I saw her in was The Amazing Spider-Man 2, quite a change of speed from this if you ask me, and she was kind of a throw away. I mean that entire movie was a throwaway (zing!), so I guess she didn’t really make a difference. Back on topic, I was super impressed with her performance opposite Redmayne. It would have been easy to be swallowed and forgotten in his shadow, but Jones proved to be a nice contrast, strong and cunning as Jane Wilde, and stood her ground, in turn receiving a much-deserved Best Actress nod.

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And often overlooked is the fact that the whole film is a technical spectacle as well. The cinematography is authentic and gives the film a very old fashioned British feel, using some nice color contrasts and finding moments to show off dazzling visual effects. The soundtrack is  nostalgic and gripping, adding to the poignancy the film is going for. 

That being said, there is certain something to Theory of Everything that prevents it from individualizing itself from the rest of the films this year. Especially considering that this year was heavy on biopics, you have to do something to separate yourself if you want to be remembered. With a long list of films including Foxcatcher, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, Selma, Mr. Turner, Wild, and Unbroken, to be remembered requires standing out. The Theory of Everything, in my opinion, did not do that. The structure of the film was too regular– there were no risks taken with the story, the storytelling, the characters. Side note, I thought that was the same problem with The Imitation Game (coincidentally another story about a British genius in the mid 20th century).

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One of my main problems was that it was so one-sided. Once the romance wore out, our interested waned. The Theory of Everything had so much at its disposal to prevent this from happening, but instead it was all wasted. Hawking is maybe the smartest man in this world’s history and you don’t even talk about his science at all? That would have added a powerful second layer that the movie lacked behind the the relatively basic quest for a successful rom-dram. 
Alas, there’s no denying the strength of Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones’ sintilizing performances; it gives this film exactly what it needs to be to assert itself as a good film, even if its not a great one. Though it indefinitely lacks a second dimension behind the romance, which doesn’t help considering the story is rather bland being a biopic, the direction and acting are superb and allow Theory of Everything to justify being nominated for best picture.

7.5 out of 10

This is the first year I’ve seen all the Best Picture nominees – Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Selma, American Sniper, The Imitation Game, and now The Theory of Everything – and in my personal opinion, it’s one of the strongest years for movies in recent memories. I thoroughly enjoyed (almost) all of the nominees, and there is no nominee that makes you scratch your head and ask yourself what kind of drugs the Academy is on. (Her? Really? [though Vig, the sappy, sentimental person that he is seems to love that one]).

I liked The Theory of Everything quite a bit more than past Best Picture Winners, namely the Academy-congratulating Argo, but unfortunately this movie comes in a year of fantastic movies, and some fantastic biopics (The Imitation Game, American Sniper, and Selma, among others). Other years, sure, The Theory of Everything would be a serious contender, but personally I think it falls in last place this year.

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That’s not to say that Theory doesn’t have its winning elements. Eddie Redmayne has a standout performance as Stephen Hawking, capturing effortlessly his character both before the onset of ALS and after. What really defined Redmayne’s performance, in my opinion, was his ability to retain Hawking’s cheekiness (it’s a British movie) even when physically crippled to the point where he can barely communicate. Even as Hawking transformed from a dashing, physically active college student into a wheelchair confined, aging man Redmayne showed Hawking’s refusal to submit to the disease. He’s a co-favorite with Michael Keaton to take the Best Actor award later this month. I personally prefer Keaton, but Redmayne is certainly equally deserving.

Opposite Redmayne was Felicity Jones. Her performance as Jane Wilde, Hawking’s first wife and the woman who cares for him for the first years of his disease, was incredibly compelling. She was alternatingly incredibly strong and heart-achingly vulnerable, able to communicate even the subtlest emotions with a simply look. Unfortunately for her, Julianne Moore is a virtual lock this year to take Best Actress.

These two leads were undoubtedly the top duo of the year, surpassing Keaton and Norton in Birdman, Cumberbatch and Knightly in The Imitation Game, and maybe even Simmons and Teller in Whiplash (which, by the way, just might be my favorite movie of the year). The chemistry between them was very alluring and very real and each complimented the other brilliantly.

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Aside from the acting, there was some very interesting camera work done here. Some shots were composed entirely in subdued hues of blue, while transition shots between scenes often reflected Hawking’s theories – latte foam was styled like a swirling black hole, for example.

My only problem with The Theory of Everything is that it was truthfully a little bit boring. It wasn’t oppressively long but was largely dearth of dynamic scenes. Yes, the film is about the evolution of Hawking’s disease and his refusal let it stop his work, and I get that that entails a slow process, but there was too often a lack of tension on the screen. Theory was also a relatively convention biopic. It failed to make a significant statement on illness, strength, or loyalty and instead seemed to be a mere retelling of Hawking and Wilde’s relationship which, while incredibly inspiring, fails to set it apart from the other biopics out there.

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Overall, The Theory of Everything is a moving and emotional – if not entirely exceptional—film about Hawking and Wilde that is carried almost completely by Redmayne and Jones, who give some of the strongest performances in recent memory. But unfortunately for Theory, that’s just not enough to set it apart from the other great films of 2014.


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