Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Theory of Everything

*1/2 out of ****

Focus Features and Working Title have made a pathetic plea for end-of-the-year prestige through The Theory of Everything (aka: A Brief Waste of Time). The film’s rising star, Eddie Redmayne, may give one of the year’s best performances as Dr. Stephen Hawking, but that does not save the movie from its by-the-numbers banality and self-conscious stylistic choices -typically found in TV movies. This is a movie about a subject who deserves our fascination. Too bad it feels phony and boring.

Redmayne can't carry this movie alone. Felicity Jones as his wife, Jane Hawking (the author of the book on which this movie is based), is a beautiful face to be sure, but I still have trouble taking her seriously. Her range is limited and I often have trouble reading the emotions she's attempting to convey.

I recall Roger Ebert's review for the Hawking-based documentary A Brief History of Time, by Errol Morris to be disappointed in its lack of involvement in Hawking's ideas. If that was his problem then, I can't imagine him liking this one if he'd lived to see it -even though he would have sympathized deeply with its portrayal of a great mind without a body or voice to use. Actually, I got way more out of the Ebert-based documentary, Life Itself earlier this year, in its balance between a life of productive film criticism and his marriage. 

The Theory of Everthing's director, James Marsh, is a very good documentarian, but this movie is no indication that he's suited for drama. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten is an embarrassing collection of generic exchanges that don't indicate much familiarity with Academia or relationships, as much as having seen movies about them.

It's the mind of Hawking that is treated like scenery and not the subject of the story. This movie can't wrap its head around the big ideas with which it dabbles. I went in thinking it seemed like a bad idea and left, astonished at what little intelligence went into its making. 

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